Weighted blankets have gained popularity in recent years due to the host of physical and mental health benefits they provide. This type of blanket also called a gravity blanket or magic blanket has been used as part of occupational therapy for years during sensory integration therapy. We’ve outlined some of the main benefits of weighted blankets here.
It’s hard to get a night of restful sleep if we’re feeling anxious or stressed. We toss and turn, our minds race, and when the morning comes, we feel tense and depleted rather than restored. Some people may take a sleeping pill to help fall asleep — but if you’re looking for a more natural and less chemical solution, weighted blankets offer some pretty astounding benefits.
What is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket is a heavy blanket filled with some type of weighted material, such as plastic pellets or polypropylene plastic beads. Some versions also include some type of stuffing, like fluffy cotton, which makes the blanket feel more like a weighted comforter. Weighted blankets come in a wide range of sizes and weights and can be used by either children or adults to increase their sense of calm and well-being.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using weighted blankets for infants or small children. These blankets can weigh anywhere from 4 to 40 pounds – the ideal weight of the blanket is in proportion to a sleeper’s own weight. Most manufacturers recommend choosing a heavy blanket that weighs 10-20 percent of your body weight.
At first glance, a weighted blanket is hard to distinguish from a typical duvet. It’s likely made from breathable cotton, linen, or some other soft, cozy material that you’d typically find in some of the best bed sheets. But with its weighted filling, this heavy blanket provides firm but gentle pressure, which results in a wide variety of health benefits.
Traditional weighted blankets have only a single layer, but modern versions feature two separate pieces – more like a duvet, which makes for easier washing. You can easily remove the outer, thinner layer and wash it with your laundry. And you also have more choices for materials, patterns, and styles since the cover allow you to change the look and feel without buying an entire new blanket.
As weighted blankets have become more popular, brands have introduced everything from waterproof models to special cooling versions that wick moisture away from the body. You can find weighted blankets to fit all mattress sizes at a variety of price points.
13 Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Using a weighted blanket has the potential to bring about a whole host of positive outcomes for various types of sleepers and their respective challenges. Now let’s explore each of these benefits a little more closely.
1. Reduces Stress
No one is immune from stress, and you don’t have to suffer from a diagnosed chronic stress disorder for stress to have a negative impact on your life. There are countless ways to deal with stress that are also unhealthy for us, which simply compound the stress effect. Even simple, everyday issues can dramatically affect our physical and mental health. Unpaid bills, a bad day at work, a strained relationship – they all have the potential to wreck your sleep and make you feel frazzled.
The benefits of weighted blankets promote a feeling of calm that can help you relax after a tough day. Pair it with your favorite, best pillow, and you may have the perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep. Sleeping with a gravity blanket is a good place to start before turning to sleep medications or traveling to an expensive behavioral or occupational therapist.
2. Helps the Elderly
Weighted blankets benefits assist the elderly in many ways. We’re more likely to suffer from insomnia as we age, which can lead to a wide range of further health issues. Older members of our population also tend to experience more stress, anxiety, and depression, which can often lead to dramatic changes in the sleep-wake cycle for elderly patients. You may have noticed that your elderly loved ones tend to stay up late and sleep in short bursts rather than sleep soundly through the night.
But when people sleep under weighted blankets, they enjoy the calming effect and find it easier to actually fall asleep. In addition, overall sleep quality improves, leading people to wake up feeling more refreshed and restored.
3. Reduces Anxiety
About 40 million people in America live with some form of anxiety – some severe enough to wake them up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. While many people manage their anxiety symptoms through medication, behavior modification therapy, meditation, or other means, a weighted blanket is also a viable, drug-free option. With the comforting feeling of getting a warm hug, a weighted blanket — sometimes called an anxiety blanket — can provide tremendous benefit.
In fact, studies have shown that people using a weighted blanket for anxiety report significant reductions in clinical anxiety when compared to those who don’t. Sleeping under a weighted blanket has even been shown to reduce the likelihood that someone with anxiety will suffer a panic attack – because they wake feeling more refreshed and less anxious overall. Fatigue is often a trigger for panic attacks, so a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference in stopping an attack before it starts.
In particular, many people suffer from travel-related anxiety. A small anxiety blanket can make a real difference for those traveling by airplane or car and who may have trouble with being confined to a small space. It can help manage the over-stimulation of the hustle and bustle associated with airports, train stations and crowds of people.
4. Helps Balance Brain Chemistry
Using a weighted, heavy blanket can help increase the brain’s production of serotonin, which can help you feel relaxed and fall into a deep, restorative sleep that you can sustain all night long. It’s fascinating to consider what research shows us about how the therapeutic effects of deep pressure stimulation therapy affect the brain.
For example, one can see decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, along with increased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate mood, impulse control, body movement and more. This change in the brain’s chemical composition leads to less stress, more relaxation, and an improved night’s sleep.
5. Helps Manage OCD
People who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder – and that’s one in four adults – often have trouble managing persistent, obsessive thoughts and behaviors. This can make it difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep. While OCD looks a little bit different for everyone, it shares the common link of low serotonin levels. Because weighted blanket therapy can help adjust the brain’s chemistry, it can also help ease the severity of OCD symptoms and encourage a more restorative night’s sleep.
The release of serotonin and melatonin, plus other endorphins that deep touch pressure can provide also can help people with OCD better manage their symptoms within a general feeling of calm and well-being.
6. Eases Restless Leg Syndrome
Anyone who’s ever experienced restless leg syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom Disease, knows that its effect on your sleep pattern can be devastating. The tingling, “pins and needles” and creeping sensations, along with the urge to constantly move your restless leg, can make it nearly impossible to sleep. RLS symptoms often worsen when you lie down, largely due to an overactive nervous system. Over time, the syndrome can even lead to chronic insomnia, which can have dramatic negative health effects.
While some patients find relief by using compression socks, you can achieve many of the same benefits by using weighted blanket therapy because of the added weight and pressure it adds to the legs. For some people, compression socks are extremely tight and make discomfort even worse, or they may be difficult to put on for people with mobility challenges or arthritis.
Weighted blankets, on the other hand, are extremely easy to use. Deep pressure therapy of weighted blankets can help calm the nervous system and offer relief that leads to longer, more restorative periods of sleep.
7. Improves Overall Sleep Quality
Who hasn’t experienced tossing and turning all night? It happens to the best of us and can greatly hamper a good night’s sleep. But a weighted blanket can provide a comforting pressure that encourages a great night’s sleep – perhaps also due to increased serotonin levels that make it easier to relax into a deeper level of restorative sleep.
If you struggle with insomnia, a weighted blanket may be just what you need. Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from insomnia, which can interfere dramatically with how you’re able to function during the day. Have you ever wondered, “How long can you go without sleep?” Studies show that the negative effects of sleep deprivation can appear within 24 hours.
But with the deep pressure stimulation provided by weighted blanket therapy, your brain is more likely to relax, which helps regulate sleep. People move less during the night when they sleep under a weighted blanket, and they wake up feeling more restored in the morning after a calmer night’s sleep.
Not everyone who experiences poor sleep suffers from insomnia. Sometimes, you can sleep all night, but still, feel fatigued because the quality of your sleep was poor. Getting the best sleep, after all, is about more than just ticking off the hours. It’s also about making sure the sleep you get is actually restorative for both your body and your brain. Factors ranging from the right pillow, the best mattress firmness, and the ideal sleeping temperature can all affect the quality of your sleep.
Using a weighted blanket can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer and wake up feeling more rested and refreshed. In fact, a 2015 study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders concluded that sleepers using a heavy blanket reported finding it easier to fall asleep and also reported having a calmer night’s sleep overall and feeling more refreshed than usual in the morning when they woke up.
8. Sharpens Focus for ADHD
Children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can often feel restless, demonstrating a lack of focus and impulse control. In fact, these are some of the disorder’s most distinctive hallmarks and represent major challenges for those afflicted with the condition. With deep pressure therapy of a weighted blanket, you can create a soothing and calming effect that lessens anxiety.
Using a weighted blanket mimics the effects of using weighted tools, like a weighted lap pad or a weighted vest, which can help students within a classroom environment increase their on-task behavior and overall focus. These items have been shown to have positive effects on students with ADHD, using the same underlying technology as a gravity blanket. Key improvements can include children being able to stay on task and display higher levels of attention.
9. Helps With Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects anyone who suffers through a stressful or traumatic event, like a car accident or physical assault – though it is most closely associated with combat veterans. Insomnia and depression are two of the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which can be managed with the use of weighted blanket therapy.
Other major symptoms of PTSD often include flashbacks, nightmares, and crippling anxiety. In studying the effectiveness of weighted blankets for symptoms of PTSD, researchers have noted that using a weighted blanket can reduce pulse rates and may lower blood pressure, with up to 63 percent of study participants reported feeling less anxiety.
10. Promotes Calmness With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Massage or touch therapy has been effective in managing the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. In particular, the sensory processing challenges that may affect people with autism can lead to anxiety attacks, along with general emotional and behavioral turmoil – all of which have been shown to respond positively to the effects of weighted blanket therapy.
These sensory issues have been compared to a “traffic jam” within the brain, with information becoming clogged up and jumbled once it’s taken in, which leads to anxiety and, sometimes, emotional meltdowns – especially for young children lacking the ability or emotional maturity to effectively verbalize their feelings. The use of a heavy blanket can help quiet this kind of anxiety and produce a calming effect.
11. Decreases Anxiety in Pets
People aren’t the only ones who feel stress and anxiety – many times, dogs struggle with loud noises like fireworks or thunder or a fire truck driving by with sirens blaring. While some pet owners find success with special wraps or shirts designed to address pup anxiety, those options lack the additional weight and pressure that a weighted blanket can provide and may only offer a 50% success rate.
Ironically, many people first learn about gravity blankets by purchasing them for a pet, only to later buy one for themselves, too! Wrapping your pet in a throw-sized weighted blanket during a thunderstorm or fireworks celebration may help ease their anxiety and keep them from engaging in behaviors that ultimately could hurt them – or tear your house apart.
12. May Help Alleviate Pain Associated With Fibromyalgia
Often referred to as the “silent disease,” fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic idiopathic pain and can be debilitating for those it strikes. There is no cure, though some prescription drugs may help patients manage their symptoms on a day-to-day basis. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have reported that the gentle, firm pressure of a weighted blanket is effective in helping alleviate fibromyalgia flare-ups. Additionally, the use of a weighted blanket can help manage the accompanying anxiety, chronic fatigue, and depression that patients often face.
For fibromyalgia – or really any chronic pain condition – a heavy blanket can help people manage their pain without relying on drugs. Many people wish to avoid medications that can impair their judgment or mood, and using deep touch pressure stimulation is a 100-percent drug-free method for helping manage chronic pain.
13. Eases Symptoms of Depression
A weighted blanket recreates the feeling of getting a warm, loving hug – just like infants respond well to being hugged, swaddled, rocked and cuddled. In fact, sleepers of all ages benefit from the hug-like sensation of lying under a gravity blanket. Hugs aren’t just for babies and children! We all benefit from that kind of swaddling – and a weighted blanket makes a comfortable, cozy cocoon that mimics the sensation of getting a warm embrace from someone you love.
For depression symptoms related to low levels of serotonin, deep pressure therapy provided by a heavy blanket can be a game-changer. As it bolsters the production of serotonin and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a weighted blanket can, in many cases, diminish the symptoms of depression.
Do Weighted Blankets Work?
Weighted blankets channel the scientific principles of deep touch pressure and deep pressure stimulation. By gently applying pressure to the body, it encourages the release of serotonin and other endorphins. Basically, lying under a gravity blanket feels like being hugged and held – and it leads to peaceful, comforting feelings related to serotonin and dopamine, the two chemicals largely responsible for good feelings.
Serotonin is a brain chemical that promotes relaxation. It’s a chemical found in short supply in many people who suffer from sensory disorders, anxiety, autism, depression, OCD, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. While deep touch pressure can provide benefits to almost everyone, it may be especially helpful for those with chronically low levels of serotonin.
Research has shown that deep pressure stimulation – the concept behind weighted blankets – has been shown to help adults and children who have attention difficulties, sensor disorders, anxiety, and autism. It’s a viable and drug-free way to increase both serotonin and dopamine for an overall calming, relaxing effect.
You don’t need to have a diagnosed medical condition to enjoy the benefits of a gravity blanket. While they might have been considered a fad just a few years ago outside of occupational therapy, weighted blankets have become more and more mainstream in people’s bedrooms. With more and more people seeking drug-free alternatives for help improving their level of sleep, the demand for gravity blankets continues to grow.
Whether it’s driving in horrible traffic, a tough day at work, or that pesky, leaking washing machine, we all face stress in our daily lives that make us feel a little ragged around the edges. Everyone can benefit from an increase in our brain’s “feel-good” chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. With a weighted blanket, you may soon be enjoying your best night’s sleep and positioning yourself to deal with whatever life throws at you with a sense of calm and control. Sweet dreams.