You may have heard the buzz around weighted blankets as a cozy tool for tackling issues like anxiety, depression and insomnia. The hug-like feeling is said to release calming hormones in the brain — but does it actually work? Discover the science behind weighted blanket benefits from functional medicine expert, Dr. Josh Axe…
Are you looking for a new way to reduce insomnia, stress or anxiety? According to research and first-hand accounts, weighted blankets may be an effective tool. They provide a gentle pressure not so different from an oxytocin-releasing hug. And an added bonus? You can use them anytime in the comfort of your own home.
In the past, weighted blankets — also called anxiety blankets or gravity blankets — were mainly used by therapists and psychiatrists, but these days their use is much more commonplace. In fact, weighted blankets for adults and weighted blankets for kids are easy to find in stores or online.
So what’s the deal with weighted blankets? As you may expect, this category of blankets are heavier than other varieties. And in addition to providing warmth and comfort, they can provide therapeutic benefits that are easy to experience on a daily basis.
What The Heck Is a Weighted Blanket?
You may have heard of using weighted blankets for anxiety and insomnia. How on earth could a blanket help common health concerns like these? The idea behind a weighted blanket is that thanks to its filling, the blanket provides added weight that makes the user feel as if they are receiving a gentle hug.
Because the blankets have a weighted filling, there is an added light pressure that you wouldn’t experience with your average blanket. A weighted blanket is commonly described as having a “grounding” effect on the body that leads to an increased sense of relaxation.
Weighted blankets, like all blankets, come in a variety of colors and fabrics so you can take your pick. What are weighted blankets filled with? Makers typically use materials like glass beads or plastic pellets for weighted blankets’ filling. Weighted blankets can be anywhere from four to thirty pounds. The appropriate blanket weight depends upon the weight of the user (more on that shortly).
These blankets, which were formerly reserved for use in professional settings, have now made their way into the average home. Using weighted blankets for adults with anxiety and sleep issues is becoming more and more commonplace. Are you familiar with the X-ray “apron” a dentist uses on patients? If so, this can give you somewhat of an idea of what a weighted blanket feels like.
Weighted Blanket Benefits
Do weighted blankets work? The potential benefits of weighted blankets haven’t been extensively studied, but so far there have been many claims of promising results. As a Forbes article highlights, “Weighted blankets can also alleviate symptoms in people suffering from insomnia, chronic pain conditions or restless leg syndrome. They’re good for deeper psychological reasons, too, with potential benefits for those suffering from depression and, as previously mentioned, autism.”
Do weighted blankets work for anxiety? It has been shown to be a very calming tool for anxiety. According to one study, the deep touch pressure (DTP) offered by the blanket “gives subjects the feelings of safety, relaxation and comfort,” helping to improve anxiety. While there isn’t a ton of weighted blanket research studies, DTP has been linked to a calming affect on both children and adults with anxiety, autism and attention difficulties.
A weighted blanket imitates a hug, which is why a weighted blanket may lead to a rise in oxytocin, also known as the “love” hormone, which helps to lower our heart rate and blood pressure. This is a key reason why a weighted blanket is said to have such a calming effect.
More studies are needed, but some people also say that a weighted blanket’s positive benefits come from its ability to increase melatonin production (which helps regulate sleep) and also to promote the release of happiness-boosting serotonin.
Using a weighted blanket may also help to improve sleep quality. According to Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a weighted blanket may help someone with chronic pain sleep better, as well as those with anxiety or depression.
He says, “It’s like having the best hug for a long period of time,” and it may be ”a good alternative to life-long sedative hypnotic medications (sleeping pills) at night.” He adds that these blankets are not a cure-all and that good sleep hygiene is key as well.
Weighted blankets are sometimes used for people with autism, but a randomized controlled trial of 67 subjects published in 2014 concludes, “The use of a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep for a longer period of time, fall asleep significantly faster or wake less often. However, the weighted blanket was favored by children and parents, and blankets were well-tolerated over this period.”
How to Use A Weighted Blanket + Where to Buy
The best weighted blankets are the correct weight for the user. How much should your weighted blanket weigh? A common recommendation is to choose a blanket that is 10 percent of your body weight plus an additional pound or two. Take note of what a manufacturer recommends in terms of ideal weight because recommendations do vary. For example, you may want to leave off the extra pound or two if you’re going to use your weighted blanket in combination with your usual duvet or comforter.
Ideally, a weighted blanket should lay comfortably snug around your whole body so it can provide gentle, even pressure all over. It should fit the width and length of your body. Weighted blankets are not typically meant to replace your current comforter, but they are available in larger sizes that match mattress dimensions. If you opt for a weighted blanket that is the size of your bed, it should not hang off the side because then it can easily slide off the bed while you’re sleeping.
Weighted blankets can be entirely filled with a material like pellets, beads, discs or even flaxseeds. They can also be filled with a mix of one of these materials and a lighter, softer material like cotton. If you’re looking for a more traditional feel, you may want to opt for a blanket that has a blend of fillings.
Just like with regular blankets, weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics and colors, so it’s important you choose one that you enjoy. Is a weighted blanket very warm? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be! Weighted blankets offer a range of warmth based on their material.
To use a weighted blanket, it can be placed over the entire body while lying down or it can be draped over the shoulders. It can be used while sleeping or while awake when seated. The best way to use it depends on your healthcare provider’s recommendation as well as your personal preference.
Are weighted blankets safe? It is important to note that weighted blankets can be dangerous, especially for children. In 2014, a weighted blanket was tragically connected to the death of a seven month old. A nine-year-old autistic boy in Canada was also suffocated by a weighted blanket in 2008. The use of a weighted blanket is typically not recommended for infants. If children use weighted blankets, it should only be under adult supervision and with a healthcare provider’s approval.
TCM Editor’s Note: Here’s the prettiest weighted blanket we’ve found yet: the BearabyTENCEL Tree Fiber Weighted Blanket.