Weighing in on weighted blankets — do they really work?

February 14, 2019 | by Laura Koehler, Psy.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Babies love to be swaddled. As adults, a firm hug makes us feel good. Weighted blankets, also called gravity blankets, attempt to re-create the comfort and relief derived from a warm hug.

Originally developed as a therapeutic tool for people with autism, weighted blankets (and vests) are now being used to calm anxiety and promote a deep, restful sleep for just about anyone. They may also help with managing other conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), sleep disorders and more.

A weighted blanket molds to your body and mimics being hugged or swaddled, which can have a deeply calming effect. It simulates deep pressure touch, a therapy known to help relax the nervous system and trigger the release of feel-good hormones, like serotonin, that lift your mood and reduce anxiety, as well as melatonin, which promotes sleep.

Some researchers have weighed in. A 2008 study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health showed that weighted blankets helped decrease anxiety in participants. In a 2015 study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, participants who used a weighted blanket found it easier to settle down to sleep and had a calmer night’s sleep with less nighttime movements.

What’s the verdict on weighted blankets?

Today, some experts in occupational therapy, behavioral health and sleep medicine fields recommend weighted blankets as a complement to evidence-based therapies for certain conditions like anxiety and insomnia.

Now that weighted blankets have gone mainstream, they are also available for independent purchase. If you want to try a weighted blanket, check with your doctor first. Weighted blankets are generally safe when used properly, but the blankets are not recommended for those with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problems, or individuals recuperating from surgery.

Also, proceed with caution for kids. A child should be able to lift the blanket off of themselves without help. Most experts advise against weighted blankets for small children younger than 7 or 8. If you’re considering a weighted blanket for your child, talk to his/her doctor first.

How do you choose the right weighted blanket?

There are many websites that offer a variety of choices. Weighted blankets usually have plastic poly pellets that are sewn into compartments throughout the blanket to keep the weight properly distributed. They are heavier than the average comforter or quilt, and typically weigh anywhere from 4 to 30 pounds.

Choose a blanket that’s made from natual fiber, such as breathable 100 percent cotton. Other fabrics can be too hot. Also, your own weight will help determine the weight of the blanket. Many people choose a blanket that’s about 5-10 percent of their body weight. Some people are comfortable with a lot of pressure, while others are not.

Keep in mind that weighted blankets can come with a hefty pricetag of $100-200 or more, but  some insurance plans may cover the cost with a prescription from your doctor.

If stress and sleepless nights are getting to you, the deep pressure of a weighted blanket may help you feel safe, calm, grounded and less stressed.

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