Sprained ankle? Sore knee? No problem – just apply an ice pack!
ice packs are an inexpensive and effective way to treat a variety of injuries. Icing an injury can relieve pain as well as reduce swelling and inflammation.
But only if done correctly.1
And that means no sleeping with your ice pack.
I realize that sleeping with an ice pack may seem harmless enough – I mean, it’s just ICE. And ice melts. Which means you’ll eventually just be sleeping with a bag of lukewarm water.
And how dangerous can that be?
Pretty dangerous. Many of the harmful effects that happen from leaving an ice pack on too long, like overnight, can occur within the first hour.
Not to mention that many chemically-manufactured gel ice packs have a VERY slow melting-rate – meaning that ice pack will not be turning into lukewarm water any time soon.
It doesn’t matter what body part you are icing, face, back, elbow, knee, ankle… the list goes on, an ice pack shouldn’t be left on overnight.
Sleeping with an ice pack is a bad idea for two main reasons…
Sleeping with an ice pack can make your injury worse
ice packs are a common treatment for injury. And they work really well if you use them as directed.
And no one – medical professionals or ice pack manufactures – will direct you to sleep with an ice pack on.
Applying an ice pack to an injury reduced swelling by constricting the blood vessels and slowing blood flow to that area.
But if you ice it for too long – it will backfire.
Ice left too long on an injury, like while sleeping, will eventually cause the reverse to happen.
When your skin temperature drops below 59 Fahrenheit, your body tried to protect itself from harmful overexposure to cold and begins pumping extra blood to the area.
This means that you have just done the opposite of what you wanted. Additional blood flow to an injured area will cause more pain and swelling.
Joseph Dykstra, M.A., assistant athletic trainer at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says, “Ice can decrease pain and inflammation and enhance healing. But if you do it wrong, you could damage surrounding muscle tissues.”2
It’s recommended by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine to use an ice pack for a maximum of 10 minutes on areas of the body where the skin is close to the bone.3
For areas where more fat or muscle is present, ice packs can be safely used for 30 minute increments.4
But as for falling asleep with an ice pack? That’s a no go.
Sleeping With An ice pack Can Cause Skin Damage & Frostbite
Frostbite from an ice pack?
Seems almost laughable. But it can happen – and fairly quickly. Especially if you sleep with an ice pack directly on your skin.
Let me be clear, skin damage can occur at any time – day or night – when you misuse an ice pack.5
But falling asleep with an ice pack directly on your skin will significantly up your chances of damaging your skin or getting frostbite.
Think about it – when you’re sleeping and unconscious, are you going to notice any harmful effects that occur from placing an ice pack directly on your skin?
No. You could be suffering painful ice burn or frostbite and you’ll be none the wiser thanks to being deep in dreamland.
But that’s not the only reason that placing an ice pack directly on your skin is dangerous.
Ice that comes directly out of the freezer and is placed on exposed skin – regular bagged ice, frozen peas, or the chemical cold pack variety – can certainly cause frostbite. But it can also burn you.
Most of us think burns as coming from flames or scalding hot things – not ice. But a burn from an ice pack can be just as serious – and painful – as a heat burn.
And if you’re deep in sleep and unaware of the burn happening on your skin? OUCH.
You can expect to wake up with raw, blistery, throbbing skin. Not exactly what you would call a good morning.
Furthermore, ice has a numbing effect. It’s precisely why we use it to help with painful injuries.
But it’s also what can make it difficult to feel any damage that’s happening to your skin. Especially when you’re asleep.
To avoid skin-damaging ice pack burns or frostbite, always wrap any ice pack in a towel or cloth before applying to the skin.
And only leave the ice pack on your skin for the recommended amount of time – NOT overnight.
Whether you use ice, a gel ice pack, or even a packet of frozen peas to cool your injury, give it up before heading to bed. Unless you are using an ice pack to cool your pillow, that is.
Have you ever slept with an ice pack on overnight? Let me know in the comments below!