Trouble Sleeping? Try a Weighted Blanket
After a long day, few things feel more relaxing than a comfortable bed and a cozy blanket—except maybe a comfortable bed and an even cozier blanket. Weighted blankets, 5- to 25-pound covers designed to promote sleep by reducing stress and anxiety, are increasingly popular in bedrooms across the country.
Why would adding a little bit of extra weight to your blanket help you doze off and sleep more soundly? Turns out there's some pretty compelling research behind it. Here's a look at why weighted blankets work, and what you should know before buying one.
What are weighted blankets?
A weighted blanket (or "weighted comforter") is just what the name suggests: a blanket with some type of "fill" to add weight. Usually, weighted blanket filling is made up of glass beads, plastic pellets, or grains such as rice or buckwheat, that make them much heavier than typical bedding, explains Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, a sleep expert and clinical instructor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
The thinking is that weighted blankets make you feel secure, as if you're being hugged, which helps you calm down and lulls you to sleep, says Chris Branter, a certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo.com. Remember being tucked in tight as a kid? It's the same idea with weighted blankets for adults.
How do weighted blankets work? Most of the benefits boil down to what's called "deep pressure stimulation" or "deep pressure therapy"—the type of pressure a baby feels when swaddled, Branter explains. “It's thought that the pressure, which makes you feel grounded in your sleep surface, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which has a negative effect on melatonin production." That's why weighted blankets are also called "pressure blankets."
The gentle pressure that a weighted blanket provides could also help produce serotonin, the calming hormone, adds Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert based in Los Angeles, though he notes there is no exact data supporting this. Some research has found that deep pressure stimulation can reduce arousal of the sympathetic nervous system (aka the "fight-or-flight" response) and increase calming parasympathetic arousal.
Of course, an extra heavy blanket isn't without its downsides. For one, these blankets are, well, heavy—a burden if you want to take them with you when you travel, says Schneeberg. And because they're heavy, they can also be hot.
Who should use a weighted blanket?
Just about anyone could benefit from using a weighted blanket. But adults with anxiety or depression, and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or ADHD could experience the biggest advantages.
“Studies have also shown weighted blankets to be useful in battling insomnia, which isn't surprising since stress and anxiety are two of the most common underlying causes of insomnia," Branter points out.
One study published in The Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders found that people with insomnia had a calmer night's sleep when using a weighted blanket, experiencing more sleep time and fewer movements throughout the night.
“Some people simply like the cozy sensation these blankets provide," says Schneeberg. In another small study of 32 adults published in the Journal of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 63% of people reported lower levels of anxiety after using a weighted sleep blanket, and 78% said they felt calmer.
When it comes to weighted blankets for kids, not all the research is conclusive: A Pediatrics study of 67 children with ASD who also had severe sleep problems found that using a weighted blanket didn't necessarily help the kids sleep longer, fall asleep faster, or wake up fewer times throughout the night. But, it's worth noting, the children and their parents both reported enjoying using the weighted blanket.
Schneeberg also says that sometimes kids prefer weighted blanket alternatives, like stretchy bed wraps. “This wrap encircles the child's mattress like a large tight sock. These provide deep pressure input with compression rather than with weight," he says. They're a travel-friendly option if you love the idea of weighted blankets but don't want to, well, lug around extra weight.
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How to pick the best weighted blanket for you
How heavy should a weighted blanket be? As a general guideline, choose a product that's about 10% to 15% of your body weight. (If you weigh 170 pounds, for example, you'd look for a 20-pound weighted blanket or something close.) Make sure you lie the weighted blanket flat across your bed so that the weight is evenly distributed, Breus advises.
You can use a weighted blanket every night or simply when you're feeling "wound up" before bedtime. “It's really all about what works best for you," says Branter.
Since everyone's preferences in bedding differ, do a little bit of trial and error and research to find the best weighted blanket for you. Saatva recently launched an organic weighted blanket, available in two sizes.