Is It Just Me or Is Sleeping in a Tampon a Bad Move?

The Nervous Googler wonders if unplugging before bed is a matter of preference or safety.

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Is it just me, or will sleeping in a tampon really lead to toxic shock syndrome? Do you need to air things out at night? Will it get lost up there?

During my six to eight days of monthly bloody hell, taking out my tampon becomes a sort of nighttime ritual, as habitual and mandatory as washing my face and brushing my teeth before finally snuggling into my happy place. I simply cannot, will not, do not go to bed with a tampon in.

I mean, right?! Is it not the number one rule of tampon users to change early and change often? It doesn’t take many toxic shock horror stories before a gal’s just about ready to swear off vagina plugs altogether. And I am most certainly not about to get out of bed halfway through my already too-short precious seven hours of sleep to change a dang tampon.

But if you’re quick to get your (period-proof) panties in a twist fretting over your chances of toxic shock syndrome like me, you might take some comfort in the fact that this potentially deadly complication of a bacterial infection is realllly rare, with your chances of TSS somewhere around one in 100,000, says Raquel Dardik, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health.

I’m not wrong about not leaving a tampon in too long. Plugging yourself up for lengthier periods (heh) of time does seem to increase your risk of landing in TSS trouble. But nobody really knows how long is too long. “There is no data determining how long they should stay in,” Dr. Dardik says.

Tonya Callender, a doctor of nursing practice specializing in women’s health care at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, says “too long” is probably a lot longer than you’d ever think to leave in a vagina slim anyway: twenty. four. hours.

That’s a far cry from the four to eight hours recommended by most tampon manufacturers, not to mention a heck of a lot longer than how often you’re probably changing your lady sticks. Callender recognizes that; she’s not telling you not to change your tampon for an entire day. Rather, if you’re bleeding daintily (if only) and happen to forget about a light tampon you stuck up there yesterday, you’re probably fine.

But if you’re bleeding more heavily, you’re going to (obviously) want to change your tampon way more than once a day, probably (and I know I don’t have to tell you this) in the neighborhood of every three to four hours. (When you do the math, I feel compelled to point out, that is waaaay more tampons than seven per cycle, bro.) The longest you should push it before changing a tampon is probably around eight hours, Callender says.

Whether those eight hours fall during the day or the night doesn’t make one drop of a difference. “There is no risk of sleeping with a tampon in,” Callender says. “Just the fact that it’s at night doesn’t make any impact [on TSS risk].”

At one time, the absorbency level of a tampon may have been a risk factor. “When TSS was first identified in the 1970s and ‘80s, the cases seemed to be associated with more absorbent tampons,” Dr. Dardik says. Synthetic materials that gave the products their super-absorbency (including rayon and polyester) seemed to up the chances of TSS, research later revealed. (Totally not super.) But the brands that got mixed up in that mess way back when were pulled from the shelves, she says. Your current favorite super, plus, mega, overflow, how-is-this-much-blood-even-possible tampons are totally safe.

Now I know it’s not just me who wishes she was sleeping more than eight hours at night but straight up is not. (There’s simply too much nervous Googling to do!) For the average seven-a-nighter, it turns out a tampon should be just fine. No unplugging (except putting the phone down), no airing out, no letting it breathe necessary.

If you’ve got a lazy Saturday ahead of you and you plan to spend way more than eight hours unconscious (in a good way), slap on a pad, pop in your menstrual cup, or wiggle into those extra-absorbent period undies. Ride the cotton pony on shorter nights in bed—and save your sheets.

Naturally, you’ll want to make sure you remember to switch things up down there in the morning. However, forgetful sleepyheads don’t need to panic about a later-than-usual change. Ob-gyns promise they’ve had patients who have forgotten they had a tampon in for days or even (gulp) weeks—and those gals have been totally fine. A major sign you’re not fine? Smelly discharge. Sweet dreams!

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