If it feels like everyone around you is embracing the weighted blanket trend these days in search of sleeping better and kicking anxiety to the curb, you're not alone. You may even be thinking of getting one yourself. Since so many people are interested in trying out weighted blankets but not so clear on the details of how they work, we thought we’d speak to sleep experts and psychologists to help us break down the supposed benefits.
What is a weighted blanket?
Many weighted blankets look so much like a standard blanket that it can be hard to tell the two apart. The key difference (as you’d expect, given the name) is that they're heavier, often ranging somewhere between four and twenty-five pounds. Many are filled with small plastic pellets or other dense fillers to provide weight.
When placed on top of the body, weighted blankets are said to have an effect that’s calming and grounding, possibly even alleviating anxiety and reducing night time levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress and drives the fight-or-flight response; when cortisol levels are too high, it can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and disrupted sleep).
“Using a weighted blanket can increase an individual’s sense of calm and therefore the ability to fall asleep and experience a more restful slumber," says clinical psychologist Tamar Blank. Many say they wake up feeling far more refreshed after using their weighted blanket.
How exactly do weighted blankets help with anxiety?
Janet Kennedy, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating sleep disorders and the founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, says the sensation of being wrapped up in a weighted blanket correlates with increased comfort. “They work by exerting consistent pressure that can stimulate the release of oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates a feeling of well-being and security,” Kennedy says. She explains that in addition to helping with anxiety, weighted blankets can also help people with other conditions including sensory processing disorder, insomnia, autism, and restless leg syndrome.
Similarly, Blank explains that people who use weighted blankets often compare the sensation to a hug that makes them feel calm and reassured. “The deep touch pressure that a weighted blanket gives can create higher levels of serotonin and melatonin,” she adds.
There isn’t a ton of scientific research on weighted blankets just yet, but psychologists report that many of their patients like using them. Tamar Chansky, clinical psychologist and founder of the Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety, says many of her patients find weighted blankets to be a helpful component in their toolkit of anxiety management strategies, helping them to feel calmer when they get home from school or work and at night.
Is there anyone who wouldn't benefit?
Weighted blankets aren’t helpful for everyone with anxiety or sleep problems—it’s more of a personal preference. If you're among the subset of people who find the sensation of using one of these blankets to be unpleasant, weighted blankets can actually increase anxiety, Kennedy said. So if you’re personally off-put by your weighted blanket, there's no need to force it—other anxiety management strategies may be a better option for you.
Another potential drawback is that some people can become dependent on their weighted blanket and then have a hard time sleeping when they don’t have access to it—much like if you're used to sleeping with a fan or white noise machine and then have trouble sleeping without it while traveling. “As [a weighted blanket] is a heavier item, it can be challenging to travel with and therefore hard to sleep without when away from home,” Blank says.
As for age restraints, Blank says weighted blankets are recommended for elementary school age children, adolescents, and adults, but not for infants, as any type of blanket can increase the risk of suffocation, smothering, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) among infants.
What kind of weighted blanket is best?
As you’re searching for a weighted blanket, keep in mind this isn’t a “one-blanket-fits-all” kind of situation. Instead, the ideal blanket weight for you will depend on your own body weight. Kennedy says a weighted blanket should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight. That said, you don't need to seek out a blanket at the upper weight limit that's safe for you to use—many people find success with blankets that are just 5% of their body weight, too.
Wondering where to find a weighted blanket? Given their immense popularity, it's pretty easy to find one online or in a local home goods retailer (we love Bearaby's sustainably sourced, ultra chic blanket). Before settling on a purchase, it's a good idea to read some reviews and talk to friends to hear about their experiences and see what they like and don't like. You’ll also need to think about the type of material you prefer your blanket to be made of, and other qualities like how breathable the material is, especially if you tend to get hot at night.
Remember that a weighted blanket isn’t a cure-all
No matter how comforting and calming, a weighted blanket isn’t going to be a quick-fix, standalone solution to all your anxiety or sleep problems. Even when using a weighted blanket, it's still important to embrace and keep up with other anxiety management strategies that work for you, like deep breathing, talk therapy, meditation, exercise, and limiting caffeine intake.
The same goes for sleep—a weighted blanket isn’t going to help you sleep better if you’re not practicing good sleep hygiene as well. This includes reducing caffeine intake before bed, making sure your sleeping environment is a comfortable temperature, and cutting down on screen time before hitting the pillow. If you have any questions about weighted blankets, anxiety, or sleep issues, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional who knows your medical history and can guide you towards solutions that work for you.