If you’ve ever spent a night staring at the ceiling, trying your best to fall asleep despite waves of anxiety or stress, chances are you’d welcome any assistance in getting a good night’s rest. But that chore is tougher for some.
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“Some people go to bed prepared to do battle,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. The moment they switch off the light, their brain switches on. Thoughts race so hard, it’s like they’re training for a marathon.
The idea of using a weighted blanket might sound a little out there, but they’re all the rage for supposedly calming anxieties and promoting sleep. Can pinning yourself under a blanket that weighs as much as a toddler actually help you sleep better?
What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets are filled with plastic pellets or glass beads that make them heavy — imagine the lead vest you wear during dental X-rays, on a bed-sized scale. They range from five to 30 pounds, and devotees say they can ease anxiety and help you get a good night’s sleep.
The idea is that the extra weight — deep pressure — can help relieve anxiety and keep insomnia at bay. More on those in a moment.
How heavy of a weighted blanket should you use?
Manufacturers typically recommend adults use a blanket that’s equal to 10% of their body weight. As for thickness, that’s determined by the kind of filler. The glass beads used in weighted blankets are tiny, much smaller than the plastic pellets, making those blankets typically thinner than the plastic pellets blankets.
If sleep temperature is a concern, there are a wide range of options. From blankets that use bamboo as a cover material for cooling to weighted blankets with some extra filling for warmth, there are options for you wherever you fall on the sleep comfort scale.
Do weighted blankets work?
Maybe? Search online and you’ll find dozens of weighted blankets for sale. Studies of their effectiveness, though, are harder to come by. Generally, studies have shown that weighted blankets might be effective in some situations for reducing anxiety.
- In one study of 32 adult volunteers, 63% reported lower anxiety after lying under a 30-pound blanket for 5 minutes.
- Another study tested weighted blankets in 30 people who had been hospitalized for a mental health crisis, and 60% reported lower anxiety after using the blanket.
Sounds promising, but studies connecting weighted blankets to insomnia are even less conclusive and there just isn’t a high volume of studies on weighted blankets.
The bottom line: it’s way too early to draw any scientific conclusions, Dr. Bea says. The current studies are small and have many limitations, he points out. “There isn’t great research yet that says weighted blankets make a big difference.”
Deep pressure stimulation
On the other hand, there is no evidence against weighted blankets, either. And plenty of people swear by them. “Anecdotally, people do say they’re helpful,” Dr. Bea says.
Weighted blankets are based on the idea of deep pressure stimulation — gentle pressure applied over the entire body (imagine being wrapped in a comforting swaddle or a tight hug).
Professionals such as occupational therapists have long used deep pressure touch to help calm children with autism spectrum disorders. It’s thought that deep pressure touch can help with stress and anxiety in many other people, too.
“Deep pressure stimulation seems to have a calming effect,” Dr. Bea says. “It might take you out of your anxious thoughts by helping you focus on the physical sensation instead.”
If you don’t want to ask your partner to swaddle you every night (awkward!), weighted blankets are an easier way to achieve that deep pressure sensation.
Anxiety and sleep: The big picture
So what’s the bottom line? If you’re willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a weighted blanket, it might be worth a try. But if you have significant anxiety or sleep difficulties, a blanket alone isn’t likely to fix it, Dr. Bea says.
You still have to practice good sleep habits. “Don’t watch TV or look at your phone in bed,” he says. “Turn your clock away, so you’re not watching the minutes tick by. Create a soothing bedtime ritual.”
And if you experience ongoing problems with anxiety, it’s a good idea to see a mental health professional. They can help you develop long-term strategies to manage stress and keep anxiety in check.
“We’re a culture that wants a quick fix. It’s tempting to click ‘add to cart’ and hope that a weighted blanket will fix everything,” Dr. Bea explains. “But if you’re pinning your hopes on a blanket, it may be time to consider addressing your anxiety in other ways.”