Do weighted blankets help you sleep better? Here’s what science says…

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Blankets. Don’t we like them big, warm and light? But some say if you really want to relax, you should try to sneak under a heavy blanket.

Welcome to the world of weighted blankets, which, as the name suggests, are intentionally made heavier. They have an outer cover, with a filling sewn inside, to offer equal weight distribution. This filling generally consists of pellets or beads, made from plastic, sand or glass, and can range anywhere from 5kgs to 15kgs.  

Although adding so much weight to your blanket may sound smothering, studies have shown that they are absolutely safe and typically cause no harm.

Do weighted blankets help you sleep better
Courtesy the brand

But why would you want to sleep with a weighted blanket?

Those who swear by it claim that it helps to reduce anxiety, self-soothe or sleep better. This is not just a placebo; research today has come to support these claims, and has fuelled its popularity since it was invented in the late 1990s.

A very famous 2016 study, quoted by loyalists, shows how a weighted blanket can help you relax in a stressful situation. The study monitored the heart rate of 60 patients while they were getting their wisdom tooth removed, with 30 of them receiving a weighted blanket halfway through the procedure. The data showed that although all participants found the procedure stressful, the heart rate of the patients revealed that those who didn’t receive the blanket, spent more time in flight or fight mode, while those who did receive the blanket were able to somewhat calm down.

Studies that didn’t particularly focus on the anxiety angle, too, had patients liking the experience of sleeping with some weight on, shown by their lack of movement and longer bouts of sleep.

Okay. How does a weighted blanket work?

Don’t we all like hugs? Or socks swaddling our feet warm on cold nights? Or a massage. The reason these feel good, is because these activities apply deep pressure to your muscles and joints, and touch governs a majority of how we feel. Weighted blankets apply the same principle and provide a deep pressure atmosphere that helps you relax and get some much needed sleep. 

The research on the subject has upturned an array of results – from mostly positive to almost insignificant. As for the cons, they revolve around how expensive these blankets are, or that they can be habit-forming (far less than medication though).

However, weighted blankets remain extremely popular among the mental health communities, particularly among people with anxiety. They are also recommended for people with autism,  dementia and those who have trouble sleeping.

Weighted blankets are suitable for people with:

1) Anxieties

For the purpose of survival, we are blessed with a complex Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which gets alerted when we sense a threat. In the modern-day, however, it’s common for people to overwork their SNS as they experience stress all the time – at home, in office, in relationships. So, even though we are not in physical danger, our body is sending and receiving all of these signals and trying to regulate itself, leaving it overwhelmed, overloaded, overstimulated and simply stressed.

Using a weighted blanket offers pressure stimulation, which, in turn, switches off the SNS mode. So when the body is no longer on guard, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) has a chance to kick in to help us calm down, regulate and find balance.

2) Sleep disorders  

In a 2016 study, 31 participants with chronic insomnia were made to use a weighted blanket and their sleep patterns were documented. The results showed that almost all participants reported that the weighted blankets helped improve their quality of sleep.

Their claim was backed up by the Sleep Quality Data, revealing that the participants tossed and turned a lot less under the weighted blanket, signifying that they were less agitated and were able to successfully relax. The study also showed that the participants were able to sleep for longer intervals.

3) Autism  

Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle with sensory issues. This can appear in the form of difficulty processing sensory input and often cause anxiety and severe problems while sleeping.

Although, there hasn’t been much research regarding the aiding effects of a weighted blanket to help children with autism sleep, many medical professionals use the weighted blanket, also known as a ‘stress blanket’, as a non-medical, easy way for children with ASD to get a shut-eye.

4) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

As children, our minds often veer out of control and focus is something you develop with age. However, for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to exert self-control, severe behavioural issues hamper their ability to lead normal lives.

Additionally, ADHD is linked with a number of sleep issues such as daytime sleepiness and sleep-disordered breathing. To cope, many patients turn to medications to help fall asleep. While these may be effective, they don’t work for all and can be habit-forming.

A weighted blanket, in situations like this, can be most helpful to calm your nerves and try to switch off. Many doctors and some parents swear by it.

Weighted blankets are not suitable for:

  1. Unsupervised children and pregnant women should consult their physician before using them.
  2. If you are buying a weighted blanket for a person with mobility issues, it is important that they can easily handle the blanket on their own. In such situations, it is best to consult your doctor.

So how should you choose the correct weighted blanket?

The general wisdom is that you choose a blanket that’s 10 per cent of your body weight.  But remember, every person has different needs – some can find these too hot to sleep in. However, a few online brands such as the Calming Blankets offer a risk-free trial period to try their weighted blankets at home before you decide to keep them or order a return.

Plastic poly pellets, one of the most common fillers for weighted blankets, is a great choice if you want to feel swaddled in your blanket. This material is commonly used in stuffed dolls to help them sit upright and it makes for a great filler for weighted blankets that can contour the body to effectively influence the nervous system.

Okay, but do you wash them?

If you are already a user and plagued with the question of how to clean them, you are not alone. The answer isn’t straightforward. It all depends on how it’s made.

For example, The Calming blanket is made with eco-friendly, micro glass beads and it lists out a detailed guide for the maintenance of the blanket on its website. It recommends determining the wash based on the size of your blanket before you toss them in the washer, as many machines have a 7kg to 10kg limit.

Although not eco-friendly, the most feasible blanket for cleaning without professional help would be the ones filled with plastic poly pellets, which unlike sand or a rayon-linen blend don’t shrink or bleed into the fabric.

If you’re totally unsure to wash your blankets at home, you can always take your blanket to a dry cleaner but make sure to bring the washing instructions to their attention.

So, should you get a weighted blanket?

This is an at-home, easy hack for your sleep troubles. Medical sciences weighing in, no pun intended, on the positive effects of the weighted blanket, added with the green signal from users, should make you want to snuggle with one.

Convinced to buy a weighted blanket? Check our Australia’s best weighted blankets guide for our top picks.

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