The dominant theory is that weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, a feeling that resembles a “firm, but gentle, squeeze or holding sensation and … triggers these feelings of relaxation and of being calm
Weighted blankets have been growing in popularity, but there isn’t actually much research on their effectiveness. That may be due to the newness of weighted blankets, their relative harmlessness and that other health issues are more urgent for researchers to study, Dasgupta said.
Some people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or insomnia have reported improved quality of sleep and feeling more restful during the day, a few recent, small studies have found. Many study participants experienced a decrease of 50% or more in their Insomnia Severity Index scores after using a weighted blanket for four weeks, in comparison to 5.4% of the control group, according to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine last September.
In the follow-up phase of the study, which lasted one year, people who used weighted blankets continued to benefit. People who switched from lightweight control blankets to weighted blankets experienced similar effects. And those who used weighted blankets also reported better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, remission from insomnia symptoms and alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue.
Researchers who studied the effects of weighted blankets on children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism have found either some positive associations or no associations with better sleep or reduced symptoms.
“A ‘grounded feeling’ due to the use of weighted blankets may be attributed to the psychoanalytic ‘holding environment’ theory, which states that touch is a basic need that provides calming and comfort,” Abbasi-Feinberg said via email. “Weighted blankets are designed to work similar to the way tight swaddling helps newborns feel snug and secure.”
Many, if not all, of the available studies on weighted blankets used participants who had a psychiatric, developmental or sleep disorder such as anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD or insomnia. That’s likely because of “the fact that these segments of the population are the ones who could benefit most from touch- or sensory-related therapies,” Abbasi-Feinberg said.
However, given how weighted blankets might work to reduce cortisol levels, they could help to reduce general stress, too, Dasgupta said.
What to know when looking for a weighted blanket
If you’re looking for a weighted blanket, there are multiple options in terms of weight, materials and size. A blanket that weighs 7% to 12% of your body weight is typically the range to choose from, but that may depend on personal preference. “Some individuals might want a heavier weight to feel a sense of ‘hugging’ and calmness, while others might want something lighter,” Abbasi-Feinberg said.
And there are weighted blankets for year-round use, she added — some are made with a higher proportion of fabric layers made from cotton, which is lighter than other materials and allows air to pass through its fibers, therefore better managing your body temperature.
Dasgupta thinks of sleep as a puzzle, and sometimes people with insomnia or mental disorders are missing some of the pieces needed for great sleep, but “no one really knows what puzzle pieces are missing.”
Weighted blankets could help, but they’re not a cure-all — a healthy sleep routine is still necessary for getting enough of both sleep time and the deeper stages that leave you refreshed. If you think that a weighted blanket could be your missing puzzle piece, “it’s worth a try,” Dasgupta said. The downside is that these blankets can be pricey.
During the pandemic, “sleep really took a hit” when it comes to insomnia, altered circadian rhythm and nightmares, Dasgupta said. “A weighted blanket is something that might have a role during this pandemic. … That sense of the basic need to be touched and hugged could actually provide some comfort and security. Maybe that’s why some people benefit from a weighted blanket.”
Medical reference: CNN Health