When I posted on social media asking for people's thoughts on weighted blankets I didn't expect to get dozens of answers — but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (or 18.1% of the population), so it stands to reason that many people are open to trying out the latest fads with the hope that they might actually work.
Turns out that, despite having little scientific backing, weighed blankets are helping a whole lot of people. For the uninitiated, weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like... very heavy blankets! Around 10 percent of the user's bodyweight, to be exact (most brands sell them in 10 to 25-pound versions). Keep reading to see what people — weighted blanket fans and mental health professionals alike — have to say about the new phenomenon.
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What are the people saying?
"I cannot really imagine sleeping without it," says Stephanie Cain, who lives in New York City. "The weight makes it feel like you're being hugged. It's similar to why yoga teachers tell you to lay a blanket or block across your stomach during Savasana. There's a grounding effect that inherently helps you feel less panicked and anxious. I'm not sure if it's just a placebo affect, but I can say with confidence that I feel more rested when I wake up since I've been using it. I find that it's easier to fall asleep and that I sleep better throughout the night."
Another responder to my query noted: "Like everything else, they're a coping strategy. I was introduced to them through my brother when he was seven or so. He's on the spectrum and found a lot of relief in regular, daily use of the blanket. I incorporated it into my own life for coping with stress and anxiety, and it worked there too."
On the flip side, others commented that they didn't notice they were sleeping any longer, that they were suffering because of the heat caused by the added weight ("I ended up waking up in the middle of the night trying to get it off of me as quickly as possible!"), and many others simply can't wrap their head around spending triple digits on a blanket. "Weighted blanket: use regular blanket. Call cats into bed. Now it's weighted."
Image via @tryrocabi
So what does science say?
"There are limited studies providing data if weighted blankets help people fall asleep or mitigate stress," says Christine Rocchio Mueller, OTD, OTR/L, c/NDT, ATP, and an occupational therapist at HSS. "That being said the limited research does mostly support their use, but it's been mostly focused on children with special needs."
The effectiveness of weighted blankets is thought to relate to deep touch pressure. "This therapeutic touch is a common modality used in occupational therapy practice. Within the literature, it's believed that deep touch pressure helps release serotonin and dopamine in the brain, this produces a calming effect by reducing excitability," says Mueller. "The change in arousal level can help an individual fall asleep or manage stress symptoms."
Dr. Blake McKinney, an emergency physician in California, adds that he's become a fan of weighted products because they accomplish what he says he's been doing manually for years — using heavy (usually wet) towels folded and laid over patients' eyes. "I support the use of all manner of weighted products as therapeutic for anxiety, depression, pain, flu, smoking cessation, weight loss, and the list goes on and on."
Image via @balooliving
Use them with caution... but enjoy!
It's important to bear two things in mind, however. "Make sure that the weight of the blanket doesn't impair your ability to breathe or move and if you're looking to implement this with a child always contact a medical professional first and provide adult supervision," says Mueller. In fact, many of the people who commented on my, once again, informal post, said these blankets were popular with their children. "I bought a weighted blanket earlier this year. I was desperate after years of not sleeping through the night and it has been a game changer for the whole family, including my son Henry. I tuck him in, put the weighted blanket on him, and he falls sleeps instantly," says Sarah Segal.
Bottom line: It seems that weighted blankets are one of those oddball wellness fads that might actually be around for the long haul.
Image via @gravityblankets