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Weighted Blankets Promise Better Sleep & Decreased Anxiety – But Do They Really Work?

Laura Finch on July 23, 2020
Laura is a yoga teacher who completed 200 hours of training.

Did you know you can feel good, energetic, and productive every day?

There’s a magic pill for that. It’s called… sleep.

Quality sleep will not only make you a happier and healthier person. It will literally turn every area of your life for the better (and that includes your yoga practice too!).

If sleep could be packaged and sold, it would fly off the shelves. But here’s the irony of life – if something is free, accessible, and absolutely vital to our well-being – we’re probably not getting enough of it.

Luckily, there’s a handful of products that promise to help us wind down before bed and get those precious 7-8 hours of quality shut-eye. The most popular being weighted blankets - heavy therapeutic blankets that promise to cure your insomnia, relieve anxiety and stress, and improve concentration.

But do you really need some heavy blanket to de-stress? Most importantly, do they even work? I tried to find out.

Read on to learn:

  • what is a weighted blanket, how is it different from your duvet (and why you wouldn’t take it on a trip)
  • what’s weighted blankets and yoga have in common
  • do weighted blanket really deliver what they promise (and what science has to say about them)
  • who should avoid weighted blankets at all costs
  • things to know about weighted blankets before buying one
  • best weighted blankets (that don’t cost a fortune)
  • my honest opinion about a weighted blanket after using one for months.

In A Hurry? Here’s The Top Pick

Meet YogaKali top pick – the Quility Premium weighted blanket made of breathable cotton and filled with glass beads. Soft removable cover is easy to clean and remove in case you feel too hot during the night.

What Are Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are therapeutic blankets that look just like your average duvet, except:

  • they are much-much heavier. Weighted blankets consist of two pieces of fabric sewn together and divided into square “pockets.” These compartments are stuffed with a filling to give the blanket weight. Hence the name “weighted.”
  • they are cuddlier. Weighted blankets are supposed to give you a swaddling feeling of security and comfort by restricting your movements and pressing you down to the ground. Covering yourself with a heavy blanket feels like you’re being hugged.
  • they promise a handful of mental/psychological benefits. Weighted blankets are said to cure insomnia, relieve chronic stress and anxiety, boost mood, and make you happier.

How Weighted Blankets Work: Deep Pressure Stimulation

The magic behind the many benefits of weighted blankets has to do with the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

ANS receives the input from the external environment and regulates involuntary body functions in response to the stimuli. For example, you get goosebumps on your skin when feeling cold or nervous or start sweating when stressed.

ANS consists of 2 divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (SNS and PNS). SNS prepares the body for dangerous or stressful situations, whereas PNS controls body processes during normal conditions.

In our go-go-go world, where rest is a sign of laziness and stress is all around, it’s getting harder to slow down and change the mental switch from “danger” to “safety.”

The result? Chronic stress, anxiety, mental disorders, insomnia, and a whole nasty pack of diseases.

Insomnia is a common side effect of stress.

Insomnia is a common side effect of stress.

Here’s were sleep-boosting products such as a weighted blanket come in. They help your nervous system take a well-deserved break and finally switch to “safety mode.”

By the way, that’s exactly what yoga, meditation, and other similar practices do. But while the goal of yoga and a weighted blanket is similar in many ways, the mechanism is different.

Yoga requires internal work (breath, concentration, awareness, movement) to reduce anxiety and stress, and induce a sense of calm.

Weighted blankets, on the other hand, don’t rely on your internal resources, but rather use external force to help you relax and de-stress. This external force is called deep pressure stimulation (DPS) - a form of therapy that uses pressure and sensory input (in a form of squeezing, hugging, stroking) to improve emotional regulation and well-being.

Deep pressure stimulation triggers a chain of beneficial internal changes, particularly in hormone levels.

It increases serotonin and dopamine levels, the “hormones of happiness,” which in turn improve sleep, help relieve depression, and in general, make your day. That is why a massage or a firm hug feels so good.

Ever wondered why hugs feel so good? deep pressure stimulation is the answer.

Ever wondered why hugs feel so good? deep pressure stimulation is the answer.

A Curious Piece Of History About Deep Pressure Stimulation

Deep pressure stimulation also showed potential in decreasing hormone cortisol – which manages stress response and metabolism – and boosting the production of melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep patterns.

The need for deep pressure stimulation stems from childhood when parents were providing us with ‘tactile comfort’ by holding, cuddling or hugging. The American psychologist Harry Harrow suggested that infants naturally yearn for a physical contact and cling to something for emotional comfort.

In his famous experiment, the researcher tried to find reasons for baby monkeys to bond with their mothers. Infants were split into two groups; each provided with a surrogate mother, one made of wire, and another covered with a soft cloth.

When researchers tested the monkeys’ responses to different situations, the behaviors of the two groups varied greatly. In times of fear or distress (e.g., caused by a moving toy bear), baby monkeys who grew up with a soft-cloth mother would run and rub themselves against it for comfort.

The bravest of them would soon overcome their fear and even approach the frightening object out of curiosity. In contrast, the infants raised by a wire mother would not rush back to it. They would clutch themselves, scream, and engage in convulsive rocking movements which reminded of the behavior of autistic human children.

Weighted Blanket Benefits (Backed Up By Studies)

Promotes Restful Sleep

Science says that promises of better and sounder sleep thanks to a blanket aren’t just a marketing ploy. And while robust studies are still lacking, there’s a correlation between deep pressure stimulation and improved sleep quality in adults.

For example, this 2004 research tested DPS twelve people who complained of high stress and poor sleep by grounding them with a conductive mattress pad during sleep. After 8 weeks of the experiment, the blood results showed that participants' stress hormone cortisol significantly decreased at night. People also said they slept better and experienced less anxiety and stress.

Another 4-week experiment by Swedish researchers reported that deep pressure, such as provided by the weighted blanket, alleviated the feeling of distress, promoted the sense of calm, and increased sleep time. Participants stated that they found it easier to settle down to sleep and felt re-invigorated in the morning.

Studies show a correlation between deep pressure stimulation and better sleep.

Studies show a correlation between deep pressure stimulation and better sleep.

Reduced Anxiety & Stress

Weighted blankets may also reduce the activity of the nervous system. This small study recorded that more than half of the participants reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% preferred the weighted blanket to reduce distress.

The available evidence shows promise in applying weighted blankets for managing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans.

Lower stress and anxiety before bedtime means you're likely to fall asleep faster and sleep better.

Reduced emotional alertness before bedtime means you're likely to fall asleep faster and sleep better.

Improved Attention

Children with ADHD may also benefit from the use of a ball blanket, a type of a weighted blanket, according to Danish researchers. After using a ball blanket for two weeks straight, children’s activity levels and attention span improved by 10%.

“The use of Ball Blankets significantly reduces the number of nights that the ADHD child spends more than 30 min falling asleep from 19% to 0%.”

Who Should Try A Weighted Blanket

I’ll be honest here – there’s still limited formal research into the benefits of weighted blankets. But they might be helpful if you suffer from:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety, stress
  • Mild depression
  • Sleep disorders/disruptions, insomnia
  • Sensory disorders

Whether or not you live with the issues mention above, ask yourself these questions before getting a weighted blanket:

  • Are you struggling to get a decent sleep every night?
  • Are you a fidget in bed?
  • Do you often experience social anxiety or stress?
  • Do you like wearing hats, heavy long sleeves as a way of applying pressure on your body or holding objects on your lap?

If you’re nodding to at least one of them, then a weighted blanket might be exactly what you need.

Do you own a pet who responds a bit too anxiously to long car rides, loud noises, or new people? Here’s good news to you folks! Weighted blankets are not just for people and might be beneficial in calming your dog and help it relax.

Is Weighted Blanket Safe? Must-Know Safety Tips For Children & Adults

In August 2014, a 7-month-old Owen Haber was found not breathing in his crib at a child care center in St. Luis. The baby weighed about 19 pounds and a weighted blanket found crumpled below his waist was nearly a quarter of his weight.

The investigation determined Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS as a cause of death. Sleeping on a stomach as well as excessive bedding or clothing increase the risk of SIDS. Whether a weighted blanket played a major role in the fatal outcome is questionable, but its misuse is obvious. The excessive weight might have restricted the infant’s movements preventing him from rolling to his back at night.

In April 2008, Gabriel Poirier, a 9-year-old boy with autism, behaved restlessly during the class. When the boy ignored the remarks to calm down, the teacher applied a more therapeutic punishment technique and rolled the child into the blanket from toes to head. After 20 minutes the boy was found inanimate; he fell into a coma. Gabriel died the next day.

Such accidents may seem pretty far-fetched. Everything can be a weapon in the wrong hands. But the misuse of even such an intuitive and self-explanatory tool as weighted blankets can result in lethal outcomes.

The good news is that if you’re an adult with no health issues, a weighted blanket is safe to use and doesn’t have any side effects. When it comes to kids, there’s one essential rule - weighted blankets must not be used for toddlers younger than 2 years old.

That said, the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust suggests restricting the use of weighted products for the users with:

  • Breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Skin problems, certain allergies;
  • Circulatory problems
  • Physical, learning or other difficulties

If you’re buying a weighted blanket for your kid, follow the safety instructions below to minimize any risks when using the blanket:

  • The weight and size of the blanket used by the child must correspond to their physical characteristics (the child must not use a blanket designed for adults);
  • Head and neck must not be covered;
  • Never roll the child in the blanket or use the blanket as a restraint;
  • When used in bed, make sure that the blanket doesn’t hang over the sides of the bed;
  • The child must be physically fit to put on or take off the blanket by themselves;
  • The child should use the blanket voluntarily and never against their own will;
  • Supervise the child at all times when they are using the weighted blanket;
  • Check the blanket for damage regularly and never give a child a damaged item.

How To Choose A Weighted Blanket: Practical Issues

Weight

The weight of the blanket shouldn’t exceed 10% of the user’s weight. The rule applies to anyone, be it an adult, a child or a pet. You may add a kilo or two, though it is not recommended to exceed the limit when choosing a blanket for your child or a pet.

Material

Natural materials such as cotton blends and bamboo are the most practical and durable. Plus, natural fabric is breathable and will save you from night sweats.

Percale and bamboo are excellent for summer. Both have a cooling feeling even during the hottest days.

Fleece, in contrast, adds warmth and will work best for the winter season.

Filling

Filling varies from poly pellets (typically used to make stuffed toys) or glass beads to rice and barley – the first two being the most common.

Poly pellets are the most versatile non-toxic filler. It will not mildew or sprout as opposed to rice, for example. Poly pellets look like pea gravel and are a bit bulky.

Glass beads look similar to sugar and are denser if compared to poly pellets. The blanket filled with glass beads may have a more flowing-like texture.

Size, Color & Care

There are no safety restrictions as to the size of the blanket – make a choice based on your physical characteristics. The only thing to keep in mind - make sure that the blanket doesn’t drape over the bed. If you’re a couple, double and king size weighted blankets are easy to come by, but keep in mind that they’re going to be super bulky and heavy.

As to the color, try to pick it strategically. Light colors and patterns will reflect the sun during the day so they’re also great for warm seasons, while darker ones are easier to maintain.

Regardless of the weight and the filling, most of the weighted blankets now can be washed on cold and tumble dried.

My Journey To Getting Grounded With A Weighted Blanket

I can be a bit too emotional at times. I love hugs and can’t fall asleep without covering myself even during the dog days of summer. So I was excited by the idea of trying a weighted blanket myself.

My first question was, “Why are weighted blankets so expensive?” The price varies from $80 to $300 per item. But when I summed it up, here’s what I got:

  • good cotton fabric (approximately $20 per meter)
  • minky fabric (up to $20-25 per meter)
  • high-quality, non-toxic filling (poly pellets, e.g., are 4-8 dollars per kg)
  • polyfill as well other sewing supplies and things related to the manufacturing process (appr. $20).

It all rounds up to a goodish sum of money. After all, you don’t want a blanket that will fall apart after the second laundry.

If the price bites or you’re feeling more adventurous, then why not try making your own weighted blanket?

There are many tutorials that provide excellent advice on how to do a weighted blanket by yourself. You can make your blanket adjustable so you can add or remove weights when needed. For those ham-handed just like me, there’s a great tutorial on a no-sew weighted blanket.

When covered with my weighted blanket for the first time, what struck me the most was that it was indeed heavy – it was like lying under a big sandbag! I almost started to regret that I hadn’t ordered the lighter one. Good news – the discomfort wears off after a few minutes, and it gets really cozy. The blanket molds to your body, and it feels like you’re lying in a cocoon.

It might be a weird comparison, but if you want to re-live that comforting feeling of being a careless swaddled baby, you’ll get it with a weighted blanket.

The blanket did help me to settle down to bed faster than usual and made a midday nap more pleasant. I suppose because it’s harder to move under it. Plus, it’s great to use during meditation or before yoga on days when I need extra help with calming my monkey mind.

What Are The Best Weighted Blankets

Quility Premium Kids & Adult Weighted Blanket & Removable Cover

I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for my first weighted blanket. So I opted for Quility Premium Adult Weighted Blanket & Removable Cover.

This one is reasonably priced, plus it includes a removable minky cover (usually not included in the price). It is filled with small glass beads and is suitable for both winter and summer. I’m cold all year round, so being hot is not an issue for me.

Quility blanket is also simple to take care of. There’s no need to clean the whole banket often as long as you wash the cover regularly.

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Baloo is a USA-based eco-friendly brand focusing on responsible production and green practices. Their weighted blanket is made of top-quality Oeko-Tex cotton and filled with super-fine lead-free glass beads. Plus it comes with a great free gift – soothing Tibetan bowl sounds to help you relax and sleep like a baby.

 

Tranql Lavender Weighted Blanket

If you’re into aromatherapy, check out this amazing lavender weighted blanket by Tranql. Made of breathable cotton, each blanket contains around 100 grams of dried lavender and smells absolutely amazing.

Alternatives To A Weighted Blanket

Man does not live by weighted blankets alone.

Some other goods that provide deep pressure stimulation include weighted vests or lap pillows. A squeeze machine is a more radical tool and is used for autistic patients. It is constructed of 2 sideboards covered with soft padding which form a V-shape. The user lies between the sideboards and controls the squeeze pressure distributed evenly across the body.

If you found the squeeze machine eerie, take a look at a weighted limb-blanket. Americal artist Mia Cinelli’s was inspired by traditional weighted blankets and designed her artwork “The Weight.” The artist states that it helped her to ease feelings of grief when her fiance’s father passed away.

Combine weighted blanket with magnesium, melatonin, and turmeric to promote restful sleep.

Combine weighted blanket with magnesium, melatonin, and turmeric to promote restful sleep.

Sensory clothes, such as shorts or tank tops, designed to benefit those who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD and anxiety might help you stay focused and calm throughout the day. They provide compression to your body and regulate the work of the nervous system.

There are also plenty of alternatives depending on the nature of your problem.

Turmeric supplements, for example, may relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially when combined with other treatments. Just like exercise contributes to the feeling of happiness and bliss, turmeric has shown to modulate levels of serotonin and dopamine.

Melatonin and magnesium supplements may help if you are a shift worker or temporary suffering from insomnia or disrupted sleep.

Is Weighted Blanket Worth it?

Weighted blankets are not a panacea and do not seem to work for everyone.

I’ve come across many harsh reviews that compared weighted blankets to a ton of bricks. Some people said that instead of relief, it became harder to fall asleep.

In contrast, there are also hundreds of pleased buyers who claim that they got rid of insomnia and managed their stress better. I personally fall into this camp and can’t think of an easier way to wind down after a bout of anxiety or a stressful day.

After all, deep pressure therapy is a highly personal experience. The only way to understand if it works for you is to try a weighted blanket yourself.

Did you ever use a weighted blanket?

Share your experiences in the comments!

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