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House & Home

Do Weighted Blankets Work? The Science Behind Them

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If you’ve had trouble sleeping at night, alongside the normal tips about a good mattress, correct temperature and your lifestyle habits, you may have come across ‘weighted blankets’. Essentially simulating a full-body hug, these have been marketed as a solution for people with sleeping problems. But do they actually work?

At MattressNextDay, we've dug deeper into the science behind them and deciphered what test results actually tell us.

Young woman in bed using a weighted blanket.

What are weighted blankets?

Weighted blankets are therapeutic blankets designed to offer the user a feeling of comfort and security.

They vary in weight - usually ranging from five to thirty pounds - and are made with high-density microbeads sewn into multiple pockets or channels distributed evenly throughout the blanket.

These weighted blankets have been used for many years to help individuals suffering from a variety of physical and psychological issues such as autism, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, and ADHD.

Manufacturers of weighted blankets claim they provide deep pressure touch stimulation (DPTS), which improves mood, reduces stress and anxiety levels, deepens sleep quality, improve focus, and decreases physical discomfort.

How do weighted blankets work?

The deep pressure therapy of these blankets replicates the pleasant feeling we received from swaddling as babies (and, indeed, cuddling as adults!). The reason weighted blankets work so well at easing anxiety is because they mimic a very big hug.

During deep pressure therapy, gentle pressure is applied to the body using a weighted blanket or other tools, such as compression vests or wraps. This constant pressure helps to reduce anxiety and provides a feeling of being safe and secure.

The materials used in weighted blankets usually include cotton or Minky fabric, high-density polypropylene pellets (plastic beads), and either a dual-sided zipper or chamber seams.

The construction of the blanket involves evenly distributing the weighted material over the entire surface area so that it is able to properly provide deep pressure without becoming too heavy in any one area. Manufacturers claim weighted blankets also help reduce anxiety, increase happy hormones (like serotonin), and promote the sleep hormone, melatonin.

What are the benefits of weighted blankets?

Manufacturers say weighted blankets provide the following benefits:

1. Reducing Anxiety and Stress:

Weighted blankets have been widely touted for their calming effects, as many people report feeling a sense of deep relaxation when using them.

Research has shown that the deep pressure stimulation created by the blanket can help to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body and increase serotonin levels, leading to better overall moods.

Weighted blankets may also be beneficial for those with insomnia, as the sensation of being tucked in can help to induce feelings of comfort and security.

Furthermore, some studies have suggested that weighted blankets may help people with autism and/or sensory processing disorder by providing a calming effect and providing an opportunity to self-regulate during periods of heightened agitation.

2. Improving sleep:

Weighted blankets are believed to help improve sleep quality by providing a gentle and calming pressure on the body.

This pressure is said to increase the production of serotonin, a hormone responsible for relaxation and good moods, as well as reduce cortisol levels that can interfere with sleep.

3. Easing pain:

Weighted blankets are popular among people suffering from chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.

The pressure created by the evenly distributed weights can be beneficial in relieving muscle tension and providing relief from pain symptoms.

This occurs due to the massage-like effect of the blanket, which helps relax tight muscles while stimulating endorphins that act as natural painkillers.

4. Reducing restless leg syndrome:

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is characterized by the urge to move your legs even in restful states, such as sleep.

Research has shown that weighted blankets may be beneficial in relieving these symptoms due their ability to increase melatonin levels and reduce cortisol levels, promoting more restful sleep patterns. 

5. Alleviating symptoms of PTSD:

Individuals suffering from PTSD often suffer from bouts of intense fear, stress, and anxiety; sometimes triggered by sensory inputs in their environment.

Weighted blankets have been suggested as a tool for managing these symptoms due to their soothing input, with the deep-touch pressure helping individuals feel more grounded and secure during moments of distress.

6. Helping with sensory processing disorder:

For individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), the sensation provided by weighted blankets can help regulate their senses, providing much-needed relief from overstimulation or under-stimulation due to sensory input overload or deficiency in certain areas of their environment.

What do scientific results tell us?

Well, this is where the waters get a little muddier…

Scientific research on the effectiveness of weighted blankets has been conducted in recent years, and the results HAVE been promising.

Studies in Sweden have shown that weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, and reduce symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder.

Studies involving the use of weighted blankets for anxiety have demonstrated a significant decrease in cortisol levels, an increase in serotonin levels, and improved sleep quality.

Other studies have also found that using a weighted blanket prior to bed can help people fall asleep faster by reducing their movement throughout the night.

However, unfortunately there remain question marks over the reliability of these studies and the claims they make.

Most studies are typically limited in sample size with small participant pools. Additionally, many studies lack control groups or adequate comparison measures which tend to weaken their results.

Doctor Christina Cusin, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says “a randomised clinical trial to test the blankets would be very difficult”- a blind test would be impossible, with participants obviously knowing if their blanket was heavier or not- “and it’s unlikely someone would sponsor such a study”.

Overall, more research is needed to confirm these findings further and explore additional topics such as safety concerns regarding children’s use of weighted blankets or long-term effects of their use.

Young woman asleep in bed with a weighted blanket over her.

Are weighted blankets safe?

Overall, weighted blankets are totally safe, although some precautions need to be taken.

Lauren Fountain, certified sleep coach at the Sleep Foundation, advises:

Weighted blankets are safe for most adults. However, those with underlying medical conditions, such as respiratory or circulatory issues, should consult with their doctor before use. The pressure of a weighted blanket might be problematic for those with asthma, low blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes, for example. Additionally, adults with claustrophobia may find weighted blankets too confining, and those with mobility issues may struggle to move under the added weight.

While you should consult your child’s paediatrician, weighted blankets are generally considered safe for most children over the age of 3 who weigh at least 50 pounds. As with adults, experts suggest that a child’s weighted blanket should be about 10% of their body weight. Many manufacturers sell weighted blankets specifically designed for children or label a model as being safe for children. Regardless of the manufacturer’s claims, it’s still best to check with your family doctor about what’s appropriate for your child.

Finally, a weighted blanket should never be so heavy that the sleeper cannot remove it themselves, since this presents significant safety issues.

Conclusion

Weighted blankets have their fans, that much is clear. So do we recommend them? This is purely down to you. Although the science doesn’t stand behind the manufacturer's lofty claims, if you are having trouble sleeping, can afford them, and want to try, we wouldn’t necessarily advise against it.

Even if the effects are merely a placebo, whatever does the job, right? However, a heavier duvet might be just as useful.

An image of the author, Jamie Latham, Sleep and Technology Expert Jamie Latham, Sleep and Technology Expert Bio & articles

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