Weighted blankets for anxiety and insomnia – do they work? Chances are that if you have been in a large big box store recently, or anywhere near the bedding sections of online stores you will have at least seen a weighted blanket, as they have been popping up everywhere recently. You may not have understood quite what their purpose was though and dismissed them as a passing fad.
The fact is though although they are only just becoming popular now with mainstream shoppers weighted blankets have been around for quite some time, and they have far more to offer than just an alternative to your standard bed comforter or sheets and blankets set up.
And it’s just what weighted blankets are for and why you might want to invest in one that we are going to take a closer look at here.
What is the purpose of a weighted blanket?
Essentially a weighted blanket is just what its name suggests. Usually it resembles a European style duvet, in that it looks like a thick, devoted comforter with a durable cover. The ‘secret’ to these blankets is contained within them though.
They are weighted, making use of polyresin pellets, discs or plastic beads, and that weight is distributed evenly across the blanket. They feel heavy to hold, and sleeping underneath a weighted blanket almost feels like you are being hugged by it rather than just covered.
It’s a different feeling for sure, but most people find that they really like it.
A weighted blanket uses the principles of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) or Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) to promote relaxation.
Do weighted blankets really work for anxiety and insomnia?
Before they became a mainstream consumer item weighted blankets had been used and recommended for years by a number of medical professionals, and para medical professionals, as an aid to combat both anxiety and insomnia.
But the real question is do they really work for these purposes?
A lot of anecdotal evidence from those who personally make use of weighted blankets says they do, but there is also a limited amount of peer reviewed research to back this up as well.
One of the primary causes of anxiety attacks is believed to be something called autonomic arousal. The medical definition of this condition is a chronic and often persistent arousal of the body’s automatic nervous system that can’t be related to an underlying physical condition.
The ANS is responsible for all kinds of bodily functions including heart rate, digestion and basic respiratory function.
Anxiety attacks often involve sudden increases in heart rate and palpitations, hyperventilation, nausea, vomiting and a flushing of the skin.
One study found that deep pressure stimulation can be effective in quelling these attacks. This kind of stimulation can be provided by a weighted blanket and in their controlled study the researchers found that 33% of the 32 participants reported significantly reduced anxiety symptoms when making use of a weighted blanket for sleep and napping with a further 22% reporting some reduction in anxiety symptoms under the same conditions.
Insomnia is not the same thing as anxiety by any means and can have many causes. However, for those who believe their insomnia is related to stress and also conditions like restless leg syndrome there is some evidence that a weighted blanket can be helpful too.
A 2015 Swedish study made use of standard commercial weighted blankets when working with a control group of participants who reported they suffered from insomnia at least once a week.
They asked their 40 participants to sleep with the blanket nightly for two weeks. Half were asked to utilize a duvet (comforter) as well and half to sleep with the weighted blanket only.
Of the participants 63% reported an improvement in both the time it took them to fall asleep. Over 50% also reported being able to stay asleep longer than usual. One interesting observation was that those who slept with the weighted blanket only reported better results than those who slept with a comforter as well.
How to choose a weighted blanket?
If you have decided that you might like to give sleeping with a weighted blanket a try to help you relieve anxiety, insomnia or one of the other conditions ding so might be beneficial for you’ll find that there are increasing number to choose from.
So how do you choose the right one?
Here are some pointers:
How heavy should a weighted blanket be?
You will discover that weighted blankets are available in different weights. The generally accepted wisdom is that the best weighted blanket for you is one that is approximately 10% of your body weight. This means that if you weight 150 lbs. a 15lb blanket – which is one of the more commonly sold options – should be just about right.
Most of the adult weighted blankets on the market right now are sold in 5lb increments; 10lbs, 15lbs, 20lbs, 25lbs. This means that there should be a blanket to accommodate most people.
The following blanket weight chart may help you determine what the right weight for you is:
|Body Weight (in lbs.)||Suggested Blanket Weight|
Children’s weighted blankets also exist, but they are much lighter, usually no heavier than 7lbs and most are around 5lbs.
It has been found that they can be effective for kids with anxiety and ADHD among other disorders, but they should never be given to children under the age of three years old and should really only be used after parents have consulted with a child’s pediatrician if they under the age of twelve and with careful monitoring.
How to choose a weighted blanket for couples?
You will also find that many weighted blankets are not sized in the same way that a comforter is. Those designed for use by just one person are considerably smaller than a twin comforter and there is a reason for that. To be most effective a weighted blanket should hug your body, and it cannot do so as efficiently if it is too big.
One issue that some people run into is whether they should purchase a weighted blanked to share with a sleeping partner.
You can indeed purchase larger versions designed for couples sleeping, but these may not be quite as effective, as the weight of the blanket will disperse differently.
Many people find more success by employing the Swedish habit of using separate duvets while sleeping with a partner to weighted blanket use.
This way you both get the full benefit of the weighted blanket (or not if your partner prefers not to use one) and there are no issues with cover stealing (which can be quite painful if the blanket being pulled around is weighted).
What is the best filling for a weighted blanket?
One other basic consideration you’ll be faced with is the type of fill used in your chosen weighted blanket and how it’s best cared for.
In terms of the fill, most of the commercially available weighted blanket choices make use of one of three types of fill: glass beads, poly resin beads and a fiber fill that is more like the fill in a standard comforter.
All three fill types provide the weight and the ‘hug’ that make a weighted blanket unique, but in terms of ‘feel’ they are somewhat different.
Glass beads are the most flexible of all, and may conform best to body when sleeping, but for those who would prefer a more ‘comforter like’ feel a fiber fill may be a better choice.
How to wash a weighted blanket?
As you might imagine it’s very hard to wash a weighted blanket itself, so the care instructions are something you should take note of when choosing between blanket options.
Many come with a removable cover that can be laundered separately –with cotton being the most durable and cooling choice – while others are designed to be spot cleaned on an everyday basis and then commercially laundered at a dry cleaners on an occasional basis.
8 Other benefits of weighted blanket use
When weighted blankets were first used clinically, they were most often utilized to help patients with insomnia and anxiety.
As they have been used more widely it’s been found, both via anecdotal evidence and some limited research that their use maybe helpful in managing and or alleviating sleep hygiene issues associated with other mental and physical conditions as well.
Here is a look at some of these conditions and what a weighted blanket may offer to those dealing with them.
Weighted blankets have been successfully used by many who suffer from PTSD to help relax the nervous system and dampen the ‘fight or flight’ reactions many PTSD sufferers find disturbs their sleep. Deep Touch Pressure provided by weighted blankets for PTSD helps achieve a calmer behavior and reduces anxiety.
Weighted blankets can also aid with getting a better night’s rest for PTSD sufferers by reducing the cortisol levels produced and reducing stress, allowing for better sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS – Restless Leg Syndrome – describes the involuntary and often rapid movement of the legs at night, usually when trying to fall asleep. Applying an even, constant light pressure to the legs can help quell this reaction and that is exactly what a properly weighted blanket can do.
Some depression sufferers have found that making use of a weighted blanket – even during the day as a kind of ‘wrap’ is helpful to alleviate some symptoms and to help them feel better.
Weighted blankets have even been used successfully for pets who are showing signs of depression. Just like with humans using a heavier blanket, gives off the feeling of being held or swaddled. This improved sense of security, helps soothe and calm down anxious pets.
Reduces Sleep Disturbing Nighttime Movement
Some people are very restless sleepers and tend to toss and turn through most of the night, leading to poor quality sleep. The gentle pressure exerted by a weighted blanket can reduce this significantly.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that also comprises a mental element and has been shown to increase anxiety and depression.
Some sufferers have found that using a weighted blanket at night helps to relieve some of their physical pain issues while also breaking the cycle of anxiety and depression that commonly accompanies it.
A study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health found that 63% of adults who used a 30-pound weighted blanket felt lower anxiety levels.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Caring for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly difficult prospect as it is very hard to know what will help comfort them and relieve apparent symptoms that they themselves can rarely describe.
Anxiety, insomnia and restlessness is sleep are all common in these conditions.
Several studies have found however, along with an increasing amount of anecdotal evidence that the use of a properly weighted blanket can help. Carers not only now make use of these blankets to help their affected charges sleep at night but many have also found that making use of in them in the day seems to have a calming and soothing effect as well.
Autism and ADHD
Some of the earliest uses for weighted blankets in a clinical setting were to help calm and soothe children and adolescents with ADHD, autism or other sensory disorders.
The benefits of deep pressure therapy had been expounded by experts for some time but the addition of a weighted blanket into the equation means that children can calm themselves in some instances and/or parents can provide almost instant help, especially at night.
Many of us spend a lot of time researching and experimenting with ‘productivity hacks’ that might help us get more done at work, school or at home. A growing body of evidence suggests that a weighted blanket could be one of those.
By easing many of the bars to real productivity and providing better sleep, insomnia relief and calming an overactive mind at night just for starters.
Productivity guru Tim Ferriss was an early adopter of weighted blankets to help boost his own productivity and advocates their use on his podcasts on a regular basis.
How to Make a DIY Weighted Blanket for Anxiety
Some people are just not sure how they will feel about sleeping with a weighted blanket.
Even when they understand all the potential benefits – like those we just listed and discussed here – they are afraid they might feel too ‘trapped’ by such a blanket or that it will make sleeping with their partner a less pleasant and intimate experience.
As it is hard to ‘test drive’ a weighted blanket without paying for it (some companies offer a free trial but the item must still be paid for up front) ‘test driving’ the use of a weighted blanket by creating your own DIY version may be a great idea.
A DIY weighted blanket is not perhaps as effective or as good looking and long lasting as a store bought option, but it is a great way to (literally) get a feel for what it’s like to sleep with one so that you can make a more informed decision on whether to buy one or not.
If you enjoy crafts, here’s how you can easily make your own weighted blanket. And it’s so easy that you do not need to be handy with a sewing machine to create one.
What you’ll need:
- Fabric of your choice – cotton is coolest, fleece is comfy and cozy
- Colored duct tape
- Heavy duty Ziploc bags
- Blanket filling – rice, dried beans or store bought polyfill pellets are good choices.
- Kitchen scale
- Ruler or tape measure
How it’s done:
- Once you have determined the weight needed for your blanket (use the chart we offered earlier to help) you’ll need to divide the filling into bags to create weighted pouches. Use your scales to help you.
- Cut out two pieces of fabrics in the desired size to create the shell of a blanket. Lay one piece out flat on a table.
- Place the weighted pouches on the blanket at equally spaced distances across the fabric.
- Tape each row of bags down making use of your duct tape. Ensure that the bags are properly sealed before you do to avoid leakage.
- Cover the taped bags with the second piece of fabric and use a simple hemming stitch to create a closed blanket.
Need a visual prompt instead?
This video offers another great way to make a no-sew weighted blanket at home so you can ‘try before you buy’ to help decide is using one is good idea for you.