Do you have problems falling asleep? Perhaps you find yourself tossing and turning in bed as your ruminate on your anxieties and worries. Rather than opting for sleeping medications, there is an increasingly popular option that many people are making a part of their healthy sleep and stress-relief routines: Weighted blankets. Some research suggests weighted blankets — also known as therapeutic blankets — can help relieve anxiety, insomnia, and stress (among other conditions).
But before investing in a weighted blanket, consider its proven benefits and the potential risk factors.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are exactly what the name suggests: Heavy. They are heavier than a standard down quilt or comforter and can weigh anywhere from 4 to 30 pounds. Generally, weighted blankets are filled with pellets or woven metal chains to create an even distribution of weight across a person’s body. While the sizes and weights of this type of blanket can vary, they are all designed to be warm and provide a gentle pressure that mimics the feeling of being swaddled.
The idea of using weight as a calming strategy is not new. In fact, this practice has been around for a long time, especially among older children who have autism or behavioral issues, for whom weighted blankets were originally conceived. Weighted blankets are valuable sensory tools because they are relatively safe and can be used to treat a broad array of issues, and as more research discovers, they have an ability to help a person fall asleep or calm down after a particularly stressful moment.
Benefits of Using a Weighted Blanket
The sensation of a weighted blanket does more than just have a positive impact on a person’s mood, it can help reduce anxiety. The science behind a weighted blanket is similar to the emotional benefits of a hug: when people hug, their bodies release the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that helps provide a feeling of relaxation. The same principle applies for infants that are swaddled tightly, they feel safe and secure. Putting pressure on the body in certain areas triggers the release of serotonin and melatonin, which can help improve mood and help with falling asleep.
Because of its calming properties, weighted blankets can also reduce the stress hormone cortisol — a sort of built-in alarm system for your stress and anxiety response — which is particularly helpful at night. Beyond thwarting your ability to fall and stay asleep, high levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on your immune system, increase blood sugar levels, and negatively impact the digestive tract. Over time, these elevated stress hormone levels can result in many different complications, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and weight gain.
While relatively new field of study, there is some evidence of the calming properties of using a weighted blanket. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, for instance, found grounding the human body while sleeping can help with regulating cortisol secretion and reduce stress-hormone production during sleep. Additionally, another study determined that a 30-pound weighted blanket is safe and effective in treating anxiety in adults. As more people use weighted blankets, more research is likely to emerge.
Considerations Before Using a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets pose few risks for most healthy adults, and other than the price, there are only a few considerations to keep in mind before taking the plunge. People with certain types of health conditions should check with their doctor before using a weighted blanket for sleep, including adults who have a history of the following:
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep disorders
- Respiratory problems
- Chronic medical conditions
Additionally, if you are exploring weighted blanket options for a child, be sure to consult with a doctor or licensed therapist in advance of trying it out, as the weight of some blankets may be too overwhelming for certain children. In any context, it is important to be realistic about expectations and have an understanding that results can vary depending on the person and condition.
Choosing The Best Weight for Your Blanket
If you decide to invest in a weighted blanket, consider the following when considering the best weight for your needs:
- In general, a weighted blanket should be 5 to 10 percent of your body weight and should fit snugly to the size of your bed.
- An adult can opt for medium-large weighted blanket ranging from 12 to 30 pounds.
- Older adults may want to consider small- or medium-weighted blankets ranging from 5 to 8 pounds.
- Children will require blankets with less weight than an adult.
Ultimately, if you are seeking an at-home therapy to help improve sleep issues, stress, or anxiety, a weighted blanket is a safe, quick, and low-cost path to a calming impact. These snug-fitting blankets can help a person release the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that helps provide a feeling of relaxation — and the key, remember, is to opt for one that is about 10 percent of your body weight. Results may vary depending on the person and condition, and it is important to consider other options, including working with a counselor or an online therapy platform, to improve sleep and reduce anxiety if you find that you’re still struggling.