Blankets have never needed good publicity — especially during colder months. But ever since weighted blankets exploded onto the scene, this cozy staple has become extra-buzzy, with more than 75,000 images of the popular bedding accessory uploaded to Instagram alone.
What’s the draw? Weighted blankets, which generally weigh between five and 30 pounds, are touted as a cure-all for stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and poor sleep quality.
But how effective are weighted blankets, really? Here, we take a closer look at how weighted blankets work and who might benefit most from them.
The Benefits of Weighted Blankets
It’s easy to dismiss the idea of a seemingly magical piece of fabric, but the theory behind weighted blankets is rooted in science.
“The weight of a blanket creates pressure on the body that is similar to deep pressure stimulation,” says licensed clinical psychologist Shelby Harris, Psy.D., author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. “Deep pressure stimulation is a technique using hands-on pressure to quiet, calm, and relax the nervous system, and it has been suggested to help decrease stress and anxiety and reduce pain.”
A weighted blanket mimics this even pressure on the body, helping to reduce autonomic arousal, which oversees the body’s fight-or-flight response.
It’s similar to the comfort of a hug or tight squeeze, like how swaddling can help soothe a fussy baby.
“When somebody is more comfortable, they're probably more likely to sleep a bit better or fall asleep a little bit easier,” says Dr. W. Chris Winter, a neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It. “Weighted blankets play on those neurological principles of the sensation of touch being hardwired into comfort.”
Do Weighted Blankets Really Work?
Research on the health benefits of weighted blankets is a little less conclusive than their wide popularity would have you believe.
“If you really dive into the research on them, it's mostly in sensory-processing disorder and autism, though there have been some recent studies looking at the effects of weighted blankets in a more general insomnia population,” says Dr. Winter, who suspects that the studies will increase in number over the next few years.
Studies investigating whether weighted blankets can help lower everyday stress and anxiety are small but promising. In one study, 63% of participants reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket, while almost 80% considered them to be calming. In another paper, weighted blankets eased anxiety in patients undergoing wisdom tooth extraction — a stressful scenario to be sure.
Weighted blankets may also have a few additional advantages, particularly if your sleep issues are linked to mental health challenges. One study found that weighted blankets could reduce sleep onset latency — the time it takes to fall asleep — in children with ADHD. Additionally, a recent paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that weighted blankets can reduce insomnia in patients with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, which ultimately resulted in improving their daytime symptoms and activity levels.
Dr. Winter has also noticed improvements among his own patients once they start using a weighted blanket. “It can be particularly helpful for people who have restless leg syndrome,” he says. “There are wonderful FDA-approved drugs for RLS, but if somebody would rather not take medication, then I would suggest they think about a weighted blanket.”
If you don’t experience insomnia and simply want to sleep better, a weighted blanket may still help. One study in Pediatrics found that even though weighted blankets offered no clear benefits in children with autism spectrum disorder — contradicting previous research — both children and parents still preferred them to unweighted blankets.
“Even though there’s not as much data to say use of weighted blankets is a tried-and-true, evidence-based treatment for insomnia,” says Harris, “if you find it helps with anxiety, stress, and pain — that can only help improve your sleep overall.”
Who Shouldn’t Use a Weighted Blanket?
While weighted blankets are generally safe, there are some important considerations for anyone thinking about using one.
“Anyone under age two shouldn’t be using a weighted blanket,” says Harris. “If you have sleep apnea, claustrophobia, asthma, or any other breathing issues at night, a weighted blanket may not be ideal for you.” She recommends talking to your doctor if you have any concerns before using a weighted blanket.
How to Choose a Weighted Blanket
First, decide on a weight. Weighted blankets usually offer more than one option and heavier is not necessarily better. “That actually makes it difficult to get up,” Harris explains. “I still want patients to get out of bed if they can’t sleep in order to help de-associate the bed with frustration and issues with worrying, stress, and anxiety.”
So if you’re asking yourself, “How heavy should my weighted blanket be?” Harris recommends choosing a weighted blanket that’s up to 10% of your body weight.
Older people should choose lighter weighted blankets of five to eight pounds, max. If weakness is a concern for any reason — from either a stroke, Parkinson’s, or just age — Dr. Winter suggests erring on the lighter side as well. You should be able to move freely beneath it.
As for the size, it doesn’t have to match the side of your bed, since oversized blankets can be unwieldy.
“I have a weighted blanket so heavy it just falls off the bed onto the ground,” says Dr. Winter, who adds that it then requires a lot of effort to pick it back up. Plus, larger blankets spread out the weight evenly, meaning you may not feel the entire weight of it if you’re only using a third of it. So, a smaller, throw-like blanket (think twin-size versus queen) may be more manageable for most people.
Next, choose your material.
While most weighted blankets are weighted with glass microbeads or even sand, the outer covering makes more of a difference. Cotton, fleece, and chenille are easy to find, although any soft, not scratchy, texture is fair game.
“I do recommend that you buy a weighted blanket that's able to be washed in some way,” says Dr. Winter. “Some have a cover that comes off like a duvet.”
There are also cooling weighted blankets for those who run hot. “If you find that you wake up too warm with a weighted blanket,” says Harris, “you can look for ones with specific technology in their design to help with overheating.” Some fabrics are even moisture-wicking.
The Bottom Line on Weighted Blankets
Ultimately, it may require a little trial-and-error to find the ideal weighted blanket for you, but there’s little harm in trying one.
“If somebody says, look, I gave it a shot and it's really helping with my sleep or my RLS or my insomnia in general, that's good enough for me,” says Dr. Winter.
At worst, you’ll still be warm and cozy — a recipe in and of itself for a good night’s sleep.
If you found this article helpful, consider sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram or emailing it to any friends or family members who might benefit from a better night’s sleep. Sharing is caring!