How Weighted Blankets Work for Anxiety and Sleep
If you are troubled by anxiety or have difficulty sleeping, a weighted blanket (AKA gravity blanket) may help. In this post, I'll explain what weighted blankets are, how they work, their benefits for children and adults, and what to look for when you are "weighing" your options to buy one.
I've been noticing the idea of weighted blankets potentially helping people for a while, but a recent glowing testimonial from one of my anxiety clients who received a weighted blanket as a gift has put them on my list of go-to natural remedies for anxiety.
My client's experience has been that he goes to sleep more easily, stays asleep longer, and has less anxiety. That's a win/win/win that is negative side-effect free.
What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets look like ordinary blankets but they have beads made from glass or plastic, or another weight source between their two cloth layers so that they are heavier than a normal blanket.
They are available in different weights from 5 pounds to about 25 pounds. The most common weight for adults is either 15 or 20 pounds.
How do weighted blankets work?
The weight of these blankets offers deep touch pressure that mimics a hug. It is thought that they cause the release of the feel-good relaxing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. They may also release the love hormone, oxytocin.
Weighted Blanket Benefits for Children and Adults
The use of heavy blankets grew over the last decade as caregivers found that their homemade versions relaxed and soothed autistic children. Mass production of the form of weighted blankets we now see has expanded people's positive experience using them for a broadened range of conditions.
Weighted blankets show promising symptom improvement in many conditions including:
- Anxiety (including PTSD)
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Restless Leg Syndrome
The blankets can be used on your bed for sleep or as a couch throw for relaxation.
The Research Behind Weighted Blanket Benefits for Anxiety and Sleep
As with all natural remedies, there is limited research into the effectiveness of weighted blankets. There are, however, a couple of small studies related to their use for anxiety and sleep that have promising results.
A Swedish study of 30 people with insomnia found that the study participants slept longer and reported that they "liked sleeping with the blanket, found it easier to settle down to sleep and had an improved sleep, where they felt more refreshed in the morning." (Positive Effects of a Weighted
Blanket on Insomnia, Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, 2015)
The results of an American study of 32 people: "63% reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality." The study's check of vital signs such as pulse and blood pressure also demonstrated that the use of weighted blankets is safe. (Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket, Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 2014.)
What to Consider When Buying a Weighted Blanket
A quick search on Amazon shows an overwhelming number of different weighted blankets to choose from. To help you with your selection, I'll tell you some of the things to consider in your search and offer you my favorite.
These formulas for calculating the weight of your blanket are broadly accepted as general rules:
Adults: 10% of ideal body weight
The most common weights for adults are 15 and 20 lbs.
One weighted blanket producer, Luxome, takes a different approach which seems to have merit: "Selecting a blanket based on body weight is actually incorrect and not based on science or fact. The correct measurement is actually the weight per area of the blanket. We conducted our own studies and found an ideal weight per square foot that nearly all men, women, adults, and children agreed on. All Luxome weighted blankets are optimized to this ratio, so just select a size and you can rest assured it’s the perfect weight."
These blankets come in a variety of sizes for children, adults, and couples. 48"x72" is the most common size for adults to use for sleeping or as a throw blanket.
Weighted blankets are meant to cover you from your shoulders past your toes. They aren't intended to cover the bed and go over the sides like a typical blanket or duvet.
There are a wide variety of fabrics to choose from. My preference is for naturally sourced fabrics such as those made from cotton or bamboo.
Bamboo has many bonus qualities that may make it even better than cotton. Bamboo is highly absorbent, very breathable, ultra-soft, and hypo-allergenic, as well as odor, mold, mildew, and bacteria resistant. For people who tend towards being hot when they sleep, bamboo may be helpful as it tends to be cooler than other fabrics including cotton.
The outer layers of weighted blankets can be smooth or "minky." Minky fabrics are plush polyester that often has varied depth resulting in intermittent raised areas. They seem to be fairly common in weighted blankets because they are reminiscent to some of baby blankets and potentially have soothing benefits. Personally, I don't think polyester is a great sleeping companion.
4. Weight Source
The most common weight sources are plastic or glass beads. Some newer designs are using quartz or ceramic beads.
Besides being unnatural, plastic beads tend to be large, give a lumpy texture to the blanket, and bunch up. Plastic weight sources are used by so few brands now that is a marker of blankets that are cheaply constructed and poorly engineered.
Look for manufacturer's to mention that their weight source is non-toxic.
I see that some blanket product descriptions include mention of them being "noiseless" or "quiet" so clearly, some are annoyingly noisy.
6. Weight distribution
To get the hug benefits from weighted blankets the weight must be distributed evenly across the surface area. Most brands address the issue of weight distribution by using quilt-like stitching of square "pockets" into the blanket, so the pellets or other weight sources can't shift with use and undermine the purpose of the blanket. The size of pockets sewn into the blanket will impact its ability to maintain weight distribution.
Look for the manufacturer to mention that they have taken precautions that the pellets won't leak through the fabric or stitching with use.
Since a number of product listings for weighted blankets specifically mention "odorless," it appears that some weighted blankets have a problem with odor.
It seems to me that the ability to wash a blanket is important, but many weighted blanket brands are not washable. There obviously is a way to make these blankets washable because some manufacturers create a machine washable product, but other brands can only be spot cleaned or must be dry cleaned.
Removable/washable duvet covers are an option with some of the weighted blankets. Some come with a duvet cover and others have an option to purchase a cover. Take note of the number of duvet cover connection tie loops there are on the blanket. Four is the basic number, but many blankets have more connection tie loops so that the weight of the blanket doesn't shift inside the cover. The highest number of tie connections I came across was 12.
Weighted blankets don't have to be hot. Some have additional batting or heavy fabrics that will make them warmer than others. Many mention that they are "cool." Minky covers add warmth. Bamboo may be the coolest. Look for what suits your personal preference.
These blankets come in a wide range of costs, from $30 to $250.
Many of the weighted blanket manufacturers are willing to back up their product with a 30-day risk-free return guarantee. Some have 3-month, 1-year or even lifetime warranties. These seem like big pluses to me, since you can't know how it will work out for you without giving it a test run.
Who Should NOT Use a Weighted Blanket
Anyone using a weighted blanket should be able to put it on and remove it themselves.
Some sources say weighted blankets are NOT for children under the age of 1, and some sources say 2. (One manufacturer has this on their website: "Their use with children under 2 could be fatal.")
They are also contraindicated for people with:
- breathing difficulties (like asthma or sleep-apnea),
- difficulty regulating blood pressure,
- fragile skin,
- circulation problems,
- mobility problems,
- wounds, or
Don't use a blanket designed for someone bigger or heavier than you.
Don't put the blanket up higher than your chin.
As with any natural remedy, check with your medical provider to make sure it is safe for you.
Weighted Blankets Reviews
- Ann Silvers