This post has been quality checked in line with our Editorial and Research Policy.

Is it Safe to Sleep With Incense Burning? (5 Tips)

Stephanie-Abi-Zeid.
  • This article has been written, researched, and medically reviewed by Stephanie Abi Zeid (Embryologist, Andrologist, B.S, MSc) for factual accuracy.

Burning incense may help you to relax and therefore get to sleep faster.

But is it safe to sleep with incense burning?

It is not safe to sleep with incense burning because it may start a fire; increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and asthma attacks; and trigger chronic inflammation. Incense should not be burned near children, pets, the elderly, pregnant women, or asthmatics due to increased health risks.

The rest of this article explains how to burn incense safely to help with sleep and lists the pros and cons of burning incense in more detail.

Related: find out if it’s safe to sleep in a maternity support belt here.

5 Ways to Burn Incense Safely Before Sleep

So how do you burn incense safely to help with sleep?

The safest way to burn incense to help you sleep is to burn all-natural incense for 15-30 minutes before bed (fully extinguishing it before you get into bed) – make sure that a secure holder is used on a heat resistant surface away from combustible materials in a well-ventilated area.

More details below:

1: Use a Secure Holder on a Heat Resistant Surface

Incense is a fire hazard.

Therefore, you should only burn incense in a secure holder that’s insulated and placed on a heat resistant surface to minimize the risk of fire.

If the burner is not insulated, it can get very hot and may shatter.

The heat generated can also damage the surface in contact with the burner.

Therefore, make sure to use a non-flammable, heat-proof burner to protect wooden surfaces from damage and discoloration, and glass tabletops from shattering. 

Always place your burning incense on a heat-resistant surface, such as a trivet or ceramic tile. 

If your burner is made of glass, then add ash or sand into it.

This will protect the surface you place it on from the heat being generated.

2: Keep the Incense Away From Combustible Materials

Keep the burning incense away from flammable objects like drapes, lampshades, curtains, and furniture. 

House fires from incense initially ignite when hot ash falls directly on the carpet and other surfaces that ignite easily.

Never burn incense inside closets.

Do not hang clothes over the burning incense, as this can increase the likelihood of an accidental fire occurring.

3: Increase Ventilation

Incense emits smoke that contains toxic particulate matter that can be inhaled by humans and pets [1].  

The particulate matter may accumulate in your home over time.

Therefore, you should allow adequate ventilation when you are burning incense to improve indoor air quality. 

Consider opening windows and doors to improve the airflow in the room, and choose a low or no smoke incense brand to minimize the release of harmful air pollutants inside the bedroom.

4: Use All-Natural Incense

Incense is typically made from natural scents and materials – such as cedar or rose – whilst some are made with resins or powders.

However, more materials have been added to incense over time to enhance their fragrance, ability to combust, and to hold the blend of incense materials together. 

Consequentially, several studies have revealed that toxic compounds like carbon monoxide and a variety of other harmful gases were detected in the smoke produced by burning incense [1].  

So in order to reduce the exposure to these irritants, it is recommended to use all-natural incenses that do not have synthetic or artificial properties.  

High-quality Japanese and Tibetan incenses are entirely natural – using only natural raw materials and essential oils. 

These are safe to burn a few times a week.

5: Do Not Use Incense Near Sensitive Individuals

Avoid burning incense near sensitive individuals like children, the elderly, pets, pregnant women, and those with asthma. 

Various studies have linked burning incense or inhaling incense smoke to a variety of harmful health effects.

Here are the types of individuals that are the most at risk of serious health issues when exposed to burning incense:

Children and Pets

Infants continuously exposed to incense smoke at home are more likely to show signs of slower development [2].

The effect on children’s development has to do with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, lead, and other heavy metals found in incense.

The pollutants released by incense smoke can also affect your pets.

Pets generally have a smaller lung capacity, which makes them more vulnerable to outbreaks of breathing problems.

Moreover, it is better to keep both unlit and burning incense out of reach of children and pets because their innocent curiosity can lead to accidents and injuries.

The Elderly

The elderly are more prone to have health issues like cardiopulmonary problems, allergies, and dementia – a syndrome in which there is a loss of memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.  

When incense is burnt, pollutants are released into the air, which may be detrimental to cognitive and brain health in older adults.

Studies have found that indoor burning incense was associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in the elderly [3].

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should avoid burning incense because exposure to pollutants emitted from incense smoke may cause developmental anomalies in unborn babies and can increase the risk of childhood leukemia.

Furthermore, continuous exposure to incense smoke slows down babies’ walking development [4]. 

Asthmatic People

When you burn incense, you are exposing your respiratory tract to pollutants including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and nitrous oxide; which can cause inflammation in lung cells – signalling asthma and other respiratory problems. 

Studies have also linked incense burning to an increased risk of wheezing and an increased need for asthma medication, especially in children.

5 Benefits of Burning Incense Before Sleep

Here are 5 potential benefits of burning incense before sleeping:

1: Freshens the Room

Incense is used to freshen up the scent of indoor areas which may, in turn, help you to fall asleep faster because you won’t be bothered by smells in your bedroom.

More specifically, the smoke emitted from incense burning has a pleasant smell created from aromatic materials like resins, wood, cedar, citrus, and myrrh.

The aroma helps cover unwanted household smells like cooking, damp clothes, and pets. 

Some incense has been found to have antibacterial properties, which naturally purify the air and surfaces in a room by killing germs and keeping your surroundings sanitized.  

2: Encourages Relaxation

Incense burning has a soothing effect on the body and brain that may help to promote relaxation and induce sleep.

Incense is often used to cultivate a relaxing atmosphere, especially during yoga or meditation sessions. 

Various studies have revealed that olfactory stimulation through fragrance inhalation promotes a psychophysiological relaxed state [5]. 

The odor of incense was reported to enhance the function of inhibitory processing of motor response, which allows you to relax and unwind at bedtime.

3: Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Burning incense before bed may help to reduce your stress and anxiety levels so that you can get to sleep faster.

The aromas can attenuate body activities such as pulse rate, blood pressure, and breathing – making you less anxious.  

Relaxing odors like lavender, rosemary, peppermint, lemon, and sandalwood can help you to calm your state of mind.  

4: Combats Insomnia

Burning incense may be beneficial for treating mild insomnia because the incense can act as a natural sedative. 

The strong smells of lavender, chamomile, and vetiver can have a soothing effect, which helps you fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep.  

5: Boosts Serotonin

Burning incense has been shown to increase serotonin – a natural mood stabilizer found in the brain (as a neurotransmitter), which helps with eating, sleeping, and digestion.  

Given that serotonin also plays a role in preventing depression, some studies suggest some incense components to have possible antidepressant effects on humans. 

5 Dangers of Sleeping With Incense Burning

Below is a list of 5 potential drawbacks of sleeping with incense burning:

1: Fire Hazard

Burning incense can be hot enough to cause a fire hazard. 

House fires from incense usually ignite when hot ash falls on flammable surfaces and furniture. 

Therefore, always ensure incense is placed on a fireproof surface and is burnt away from combustible materials.  

Make sure that you extinguish the incense fully before falling asleep.

2: May Increase the Risk of Cancer

Long-term exposure to particulate matter present in incense smoke was found to be related to an increased risk for upper respiratory tract cancers [6].

Other incense components like benzene, carbonyls, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons are also carcinogenic and exert negative health effects. 

However, the occasional burning of incense is relatively safe because the amount of harmful chemicals inhaled will be relatively low.

3: Could Trigger Asthma Attacks

The levels of carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and nitrous oxide found in incense smoke can cause inflammation in the lung cells – potentially triggering asthma attacks and other respiratory issues [7]. 

Children and unborn babies are particularly susceptible to the impacts of carbon monoxide and other toxins released in the air since their bodies are still developing. 

4: Can Trigger Chronic Inflammation

While some studies suggest possible anti-inflammatory effects of incense components, other studies showed that incense smoke leads to chronic inflammation in the body – especially in the lungs and liver. 

This inflammation was caused by the body processing particulate matter into metabolites, which also caused oxidative stress. 

Excessive, chronic inflammation in the body is harmful because it can exacerbate conditions like asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and even mental illnesses [8].

5: Could Increase The Risk Of Heart Disease

Burning incense produces carbon monoxide, which could play a role in increasing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. 

The inhalation of carbon monoxide leads to the displacement of oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen.

Therefore, long-term exposure to incense indoors can contribute to cardiovascular diseases. 

Only Burn Incense For 15-30 Minutes Before Sleep

It is not advisable to sleep with incense burning all night due to the health and fire risks – only burn incense for 15-30 minutes before bedtime and ensure that the incense is extinguished fully before you go to sleep.

More specifically, burning incense emits pollutants in the air – which accumulate in your bedroom over time and can potentially contribute to the development of cancer, heart, and respiratory problems.   

The health risks increase for young children, pets, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing medical conditions.  

You can minimize the risks if you choose a proper holder, keep the incense away from flammable materials, increase ventilation, and you make sure the incense is extinguished before sleeping.

Up next: 7 safety tips for sleeping with an Apple Watch on.


Sources and References

[1], [7] Poslusny, Catherine. “Is Incense Smoke Bad for You?” Molekule, 2018, https://molekule.science/is-incense-smoke-bad-for-you/. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[2] Wei, Chih-Fu. “Household incense burning and infant gross motor development: Results from the Taiwan Birth Cohort Study.” Pubmed, 2018, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29558633/. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[3] Wong, Adrian. “Indoor incense burning impacts cognitive functions and brain functional connectivity in community older adults.” Nature, 2020, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63568-6#:~:text=Although%20there%20is%20currently%20a,an%20increased%20risk%20for%20Alzheimer’s. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[4] Liang-yi, Wu. “Incense smoke bad for children: study.” Taipeitimes, 2018, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2018/06/26/2003695572. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[5] Sowndhararajan, Kandhasamy. “Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response.” NCBI, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198031/#:~:text=The%20sense%20of%20smell%20plays,%2C%20stress%2C%20and%20working%20capacity.&text=The%20studies%20have%20suggested%20a,%2C%20mood%2C%20and%20social%20behavior. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[6] Cancer.org – Is Burning Incense Linked to Respiratory Cancers? https://www.cancer.org.au/iheard/is-burning-incense-linked-to-respiratory-cancers. Accessed 17th April 2021.

[8] Vanderbilt Medical School – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Inflammation. https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/. Accessed 17th April 2021.

Medical and Safety Disclaimer

No part of this article or website offers medical or safety advice – always consult with a qualified medical professional if you require such guidance and use your own best judgment when assessing any safety risks relevant to your individual situation.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Close Up of Assorted Incense Products Representing Zen Idea’ by istockphotoluis (Getty Images Pro) used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

Leave a comment