You may have heard about weighted blankets, but what are they, how do they work, and can they really help you sleep?
Good things can happen when we cosy up under a weighted blanket. Research supports the theory that when combined with everything else we know about getting a good night’s sleep, such as daylight, exercise, and monitoring your food and caffeine intake, a weighted blanket might be just what you’re looking for when it comes to getting enough good quality, replenishing sleep.
Weighted blankets are made of fibre such as cotton, bamboo or rayon, and filled with lots of very small weights, making them heavier than a normal blanket. The weights may be glass, plastic, grains or other materials. The weights may be distributed evenly over the blanket, able to be moved around, or concentrated in certain areas that correspond with parts of the body. A weighted blanket weighs anywhere from 3kg to 12kg depending on overall size and manufacturer. The Sleep8 Under Gravity blanket, for example, weighs 7 kgs and is made 100% of cotton externally, 100% polyester internally and contains 94% of glass little spheres and 6% of polyester.
Usually, you lie flat on your back with the blanket covering your body (not your head). You will experience the full weight of the blanket evenly distributed across your body. You can sleep under your blanket, or use it for a short time to relax, whichever suits you best.
You can also wrap the blanket around yourself while you relax or watch TV, or use it as a comfort blanket, especially if you suffer feelings of anxiety or hyper-activity.
Weighted blankets apply gentle pressure to your body. This is based on the theory of Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS): firm but gentle squeezing, hugs, or being held relaxes the nervous system, triggering an overall sense of calm and peace. DPS is thought to stimulate the production of the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin, reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase levels of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
In short, it is claimed that using a weighted blanket may calm your brain and help improve overall sleep quality. It could help you fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up calmer and more relaxed.
Weighted blankets have become increasingly popular with people seeking to relieve their insomnia; reduce anxiety and feel calm. They are frequently recommended by sleep experts and coaches to support people to overcome Insomnia and other sleep problems.
Weighted blankets are also used in a growing number of therapeutic settings. Some occupational therapists use them for sensory integration therapy with children who have trouble processing their senses — a trait that is often linked with autism spectrum disorder. Weighted blankets may stimulate the sense of touch, helping the brain adapt to it. It is thought that this can help them better control their emotions and boost their mental health — although this has not yet been scientifically proven.
Weighted blankets are also used in some psychiatric settings as an alternative to medication or physical restraints for people with anxiety, eating disorders and insomnia.
Anecdotal claims appear to support the idea that weighted blankets may help alleviate anxiety and insomnia when used at home or in therapy.
Research undertaken in various medical settings indicates that a weighted blanket may be helpful in reducing anxiety in people with certain psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or eating disorders. However, more research is needed before the effectiveness of weighted blankets in assisting with insomnia can be scientifically confirmed.
While the science is not yet definitive, it appears you may benefit from using a correctly weighted blanket, especially if anxiety is one of the things keeping you awake. Even if it is just the act of mindfully lying down, with your blanket giving you a hug, the chance to increase your ‘happiness’ hormones is definitely worth considering, especially if you combine it with good sleep hygiene.
It is important to talk to your doctor about any medical concerns first. If you’re not getting enough sleep, or disrupted sleep is affecting your day-to-day life, seek medical advice.
Weighted blankets may not work effectively for everyone. They are generally not recommended if you are very weak, elderly, pregnant, or under 18 (unless under medical supervision) or if you have circulatory problems, respiratory issues, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea, claustrophobia.
If you have any medical issues, you should check with your medical professional before using a weighted blanket.