The days may be getting shorter, but the weather is yet to offer much respite. In fact, statistically, February is the UK’s coldest month, and last year the Beast from the East lingered well into March.
So prepare for plenty more chilly nights ahead. One option to stave off the cold is an electric blanket. Unlike the clunky, intimidating old behemoths your grandmother used to inflict on you, modern electric blankets are streamlined, with wires you’ll barely notice running through them – and, thankfully much safer, too.
There are several types on the market – under-blankets, over-blankets, throws and duvets – but I’m going to focus on under-blankets, which fit between your mattress and bed sheet. This is because the experts I spoke to agreed they were the best option, and said a high tog duvetshould be sufficient to keep you snug at night.
Electric blankets are ideal for taking the chill off your mattress before you tuck yourself in, and can also alleviate muscle aches and joint pains while helping reduce dust mites. Strict safety standards – look out for British Electrotechnical Approvals Board (BEAB) approval – mean you can rest assured that, if you adhere to the manual’s instructions, your house won’t go up in flames and you won’t be electrocuted.
They are perhaps best for pre-sleep use, rather than being left on all night. This is because our bodies are supposed to cool down overnight, and keeping one on can prevent a healthy night’s sleep. “From our point of view your duvet and the togs should provide the heat you need. The main purpose of the electric blanket is really to heat up the bed prior to getting into it,” says David Page, sales and marketing director at Slumberdown, an electric blanket manufacturer. It’s best to switch it on around 30 minutes before bedtime, before unplugging when you’re under the duvet.
Each blanket reviewed was tested over a number of nights (they’re only necessary, I’ve found, when temperatures drop to around 6C). There was little discrepancy in terms of actual heating of the bed, though several factors could help lift a product. Ease of attachment (better ones have elastic skirting; cheaper models use straps, which can be fiddly); control (features including timers and more heat settings); and connectivity (apps to switch on remotely) were the major factors. Also look out for the dual control function, which allows one side of the bed to heat up independently to another – ideal for couples.
Price-wise, you’re looking at around £40-50 for a basic option; £60-80 for something a little more high-tech; and over £100 for app-controlled blankets. All models tested are for a double bed, though other sizes exist; each is machine-washable. It’s advisable to follow the manual when first setting up your blanket.
Here’s what I found after several nights testing each model, starting with my favourite…
1. Monogram Konnect smart underblanket
Why we like it: Smart connectivity and supreme comfort
Generally, I hate things that are unnecessarily controlled by smartphones. Call me a Luddite, but I want to limit my screen time, not expand it by boiling a kettle from the toilet, or getting constant updates on how much loo roll is left while at work.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for innovation, and for me an app-controlled electric blanket makes a lot of sense. Like being able to switch on your heating on the train journey home, I like having the ability to heat up my bed with a swipe of my phone. It makes sense because a) often bedrooms are on a different floor to where you spend most of your time, and b) electric blankets can take up to 30 minutes to fully warm up the bed. If you’re getting home late on a frosty evening, this means you can head straight to sleep in a cosy, toasty bed.
The app, CosyNight, is simple to set up and connect (which cannot be said for all smart devices). It’s easy to get accustomed to, and you can set different levels (between 1 and 9) for feet and body, while you can fiddle around with duration (any time up to 24 hours). An added bonus is that the app tells you how many kWh of energy you’re using up.
As for the blanket itself – faultless. It was the easiest to attach to my bed thanks to a wonderfully stretchy mesh skirting; it was thin and comfortable (in all honesty, I barely noticed it was there, which is a very good thing, unless you have a terribly uncomfortable mattress). There’s a dual control function which means couples can heat to their preferences (though this requires two separate sockets). The 9 setting was scalding; 1 barely noticeable, so there’s plenty of scope to work out your preference – for me, it was around 2 on the body, and 7 on the feet.
Usually, I’m first in line to deride smart technology, but where it makes sense, I’m willing to concede. Yes, it’s more expensive than regular electric blankets. But yes, it’s also better. (NB: You don’t need to use the app if you don’t want to, though if you’re not planning to, it’s probably best to opt for something cheaper. In which case, see my next pick.)
2. Homefront dual control premium fleece electric blanket
Why we like it: Fleece lining adds comfort; simple to control
I found this to be the best-looking blanket – not that it matters when it’s hidden away under the sheet. This is because the lining is made of fluffy fleece that looks akin to a sheepskin. Looks may be a moot point, but it adds comfort, which is important.
Despite the fleece, it isn’t thick at all, another aspect I found important when setting up the sheet – bed sheets were easier to attach and keep flat on a thinner electric blanket. It also covered my whole bed, which cannot be said for some of the cheaper options I trialled.
The Homefront offers dual control, and as a cash-strapped millennial who mostly sleeps alone, I found myself just using one side, which helps save on energy. The control pad was simple to use and, on top of choosing which side you want to heat, you can also differentiate between body and legs, with nine different temperature settings to choose from.
The hottest setting was scalding; the lowest enough to just remove the sharp frosty feeling on entering a bed on a cold winter night. There’s a timer as well, between one and nine hours, so if you do want it on that little bit longer while you fall asleep, you can make sure it switches off in the early hours.
Overall, I found this to be a very good product which just lost out to the Monogram on account of the latter’s app control.
3. Slumberdown Wonderfully Warm heated underblanket
Why we like it: Nice and cheap
A polyester electric blanket that only covered three-quarters of my bed, which I found slightly irksome but not drastically so. It’s a little thick, and the extra padding made my bed feel a little softer – it was a bit like sleeping on a mattress topper. It didn’t have an elastic skirt like some of the more expensive varieties, but of the strapped electric blankets, this was the easiest to attach.
Dual control wasn’t an option here, which isn’t a problem if you and your partner are happy to compromise, however there were nine settings ranging from boiling-hot 9 to barely noticeable 1; 4 or 5 was optimal for me. The timer has four settings: one, five, eight and 12 hours.
I found that some cheaper blankets had a tendency to come lose or crease up when I moved around at night; this one was fine. I liked the feature that adds extra heat to the area around your feet: in all honesty, I found in general keeping my feet snug and warm quite nice, whereas too much heat on my body made me feel stuffy and affected my sleep.
For under £50, this was the best blanket I tried and, while it doesn’t offer the bells and whistles of some pricier options, for the job at hand, it’s perfectly fine.
4. Mylek deluxe electric blanket with dual control
A cheap option offering dual control. There’s really not much separating this and the Slumberdown, apart from a slightly annoying pad connecting the blanket to the plug that I found myself kicking a few times at night.
The blanket itself is thin, so apart from those chunky pads I didn’t feel a thing. There were only three settings, which is far less than most competitors, which means there’s less control over heat. The first setting was fine for eliminating chill, the third was quite toasty, and the second somewhere in between.
In terms of usability it was all fairly straightforward, and the elasticated skirt meant no faffing about with straps.
5. Silentnight comfort control electric blanket
Heat-wise, there wasn’t much wrong with this blanket, other than the fact it only offers three settings where others have several more. However, it didn’t cover my whole bed, which was a little annoying, and the straps were rather fiddly, so getting it all set up was a bit of a chore.
It’s worth noting is that the heat settings didn’t feel as potent as the Mylek, though depending on your preferences, that’s not necessarily a problem. Otherwise, positives include it being machine-washable (all tested are) and a very quick warm-up time of around seven minutes.
Electric blankets: should I get one?
Broadly, I found electric blankets to be a nice addition to my bedtime routine, though not an essential one. As someone who doesn’t sleep well most nights, it didn’t improve my shuteye (though it should be noted that’s not necessarily a promise of the manufacturers). However, on the coldest nights, and in a room that doesn’t have central heating, it was more pleasant to tuck myself in.
According to Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert and author of How to Sleep Well, an electric blanket has to be used in the right way. He explains: “In order to get a good night’s sleep, you actually have to lose body temperature. Your body temperature drops throughout the night, and its lowest point is about two to four o’clock in the morning.
“So the advice is that you need a cool bedroom and a warm bed, but you warm the bed up just by being in it. If you use an electric blanket just to take off the chill at the start of the night, then that’s more about comfort, about not getting into an icy cold bed.”
In fact, Stanley explains that being comfortable when getting into bed is a “huge factor” in how we sleep. “If you’re cold, it feels like a threat and your body doesn’t want to go to sleep, because your brain and body perceive it as a threat.” So if you don’t like jumping into an ice-cold bed, an electric is right for you – just don’t leave it on all night.
Both Stanley and Page say switching one on around half an hour before bed should suffice (all the ones I tested were able to warm up the bed in 30 minutes or less).
How does an electric blanket work?
Using an electric blanket is really straightforward. Your blanket will come with a plug (or two if it’s dual-control), which usually extends to around a metre or so. Attach it to your mattress via its straps or elastic skirt, place your sheet over it, and then make your bed as usual. Make sure your duvet fully covers the bed so as not to dissipate the heat.
Then, via the control pad (or your smart phone) you switch it on, and choose between heat settings and – on the better models – select a time.
How safe is an electric blanket?
While old electric blankets were seen as fire hazards, new models simply are not. Your blanket should have passed BEAB checks, and feature auto cut-off or overheat protection. Some are even machine-washable without damaging the product.
However, Page offers some advice on conduct: “Be careful with liquids in bed, and if your pets sleep in bed with you, that’s a bit of a question mark, just in case they chew the wires.”
Are there any health benefits?
While health benefits shouldn’t be exaggerated, you might find if you suffer from a condition like arthritis or poor circulation that an electric blanket can alleviate some of the pain.
“We have head people with arthritis or bad backs saying it alleviated those ailments,” says Page. Stanley agrees: “If you have problems with circulation, or medical problems where you are feel cold, it could be beneficial.”