In the last couple of years, weighted blankets grew beyond their origins as therapeutic equipment to become one of the most sought-after solutions to the nation’s sleep problems. But do weighted blankets really help you sleep? In this article, we look at what weighted blankets are and whether they can really help you to overcome insomnia.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket is just like an ordinary blanket, but heavier. Some weighted blankets are made of layers of dense material between a soft fabric outer layer. More often, they contain glass or plastic beads or pellets packed into square fabric pockets. That might sound uncomfortable, but from the outside, the only real difference is that weighted blankets exert more pressure on your body.
In the past, weighted blankets were primarily used in therapeutic scenarios, but over the past few years, they’ve received significant media attention and many manufacturers are now making beautifully designed blankets for the home. You will easily find a weighted blanket to match your decor in your preferred material, whether that’s cotton, polyester, wool, or microfiber. Weighted blankets are made in many different weights, from around 5 pounds up to a maximum of around 30 pounds.
How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
Many people say that the extra weight of a heavier blanket is calming. They report that laying under a weighted blanket relaxes their body, reduces anxiety, and helps them to fall asleep more quickly. There is some scientific data to back up these claims, although further research needs to be done into the benefits of weighted blankets for specific conditions.
Scientists have found that increased pressure on the upper body has a calming effect on some individuals. They observed that heavy blankets reduced anxiety in autistic children and developed a therapeutic treatment called deep pressure touch or deep pressure stimulation. In 2006 a study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health reported that 63 percent of adults found that a weighted blanket reduced anxiety and that 73 percent preferred the blanket to other calming therapies. More recent studies into deep pressure stimulation found similar results.
The calming effect of weighted blankets is often attributed to the impact of deep pressure stimulation on the central nervous system. It affects both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, generating calming effects by reducing stress arousal and increasing vagal tone.
Which Conditions Are Helped By Weighted Blankets?
As we mentioned earlier, there has been little scientific research into the benefits of weighted blankets for specific conditions in adults. Many people find that weighted blankets help them to fall asleep more quickly, so our best advice is to experiment. Buy a weighted blanket and see whether it works for you.
That said, there is fairly strong evidence that weighted blankets help with the symptoms of anxiety, including elevated heart rates, and other stress-related conditions that make it difficult to fall asleep at night. A weighted blanket is not a magic cure for insomnia, but it is worth trying as part of a cohesive sleep hygiene plan.
Weighted blankets have also been found to reduce stress and improve sleep in people with dementia. However, caregivers should be aware that it may be dangerous to use an excessively heavy blanket with patients who have mobility issues and bodily weakness.
You may come across claims that weighted blankets help to alleviate pain. The evidence for pain relief is weak. Deep pressure stimulation may provide temporary relief from certain types of pain, including pain from fibromyalgia, so it may be worth trying, but there is a paucity of medical research to show that a weighted blanket is a long-term solution for sleep conditions caused by pain.
Who Should Not Use a Weighted Blanket?
We have already mentioned that an overly heavy blanket can be dangerous for elders with reduced mobility and strength. The same is true of children, and there have unfortunately been child fatalities related to weighted blankets. Don’t use weighted blankets with children under 3, and take care not to use excessively heavy blankets with older children.
Heavy weighted blankets should also be avoided by people with respiratory conditions. If you struggle to breathe because of sleep apnea or asthma, putting unnecessary pressure on your chest may make things worse.
Finally, if you have claustrophobia or cleithrophobia, weighted blankets may not be for you.
How to Choose the Right Weighted Blanket
There are no hard-and-fast rules for choosing a weighted blanket, and it’s mostly a matter a personal preference. Some people love super-heavy 30-pound blankets while others find a 5-pound blanket does the job. If you’re looking to buy your first weighted blanket, a good rule of thumb is to choose a blanket that’s about 10 percent of your body weight.
If anxiety makes it difficult for you to fall asleep at night or you love the cozy feeling of extra-snug bedding, a weighted blanket may be just what you’re looking for.
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