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As a culture, we are obsessed with sleep. We need it. We like it. We can’t stop talking about how to get more of it. But for some of us these days, sleep can seem especially elusive. Some of us lose sleep because of our night-owl tendencies—say, reading in bed or binge-watching our favorite series—or even because of revenge bedtime procrastination.
But sometimes a lack of sufficient shut-eye has a deeper cause. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders—conditions including insomnia and sleep apnea. Whatever the reason for your poor sleep, it can result in symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, depression, and anxiety.
So how can you relax and get the sleep you need? Some say weighted blankets are the answer.
What are weighted blankets?
Most weighted blankets look like a typical comforter, but they’re filled with tiny plastic, glass, or metal beads that make them heavy. It’s a technology designed to simulate deep touch pressure—a therapeutic method shown to have a calming effect, particularly for people with autism spectrum disorder, attention disorders, and issues related to emotional and physical regulation.
Today, weighted blankets are marketed not only as a solution to all of your sleep problems, but also to relieve anxiety, depression, and PTSD. But is there any weight (pun intended) to these claims?
The science behind weighted blankets
While extensive research is still underway, studies have shown that weighted blankets are beneficial for a host of conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, and dementia. They may even provide a small benefit for blood pressure and heart rate. I did a review of recent evidence-based research to help to separate fact from fiction.
Weighted blankets activate the parasympathetic nervous system
Research suggests that applying deep pressure to your body stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which controls your body’s ability to relax. There is also evidence that using weighted blankets decreases the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which controls your “fight or flight” response. Together, the increased activation of the PNS and reduced stimulation of the SNS have a calming effect.
They increase in oxytocin levels
Widespread pressure on the body has also been shown to increase oxytocin levels, which plays a central role in relaxation and sleep. Oxytocin is a “feel good” hormone and it may have a sedative effect on the brain. Effectively using a weighted blanket may decrease overall levels of stress and anxiety by triggering the release of oxytocin.
They mimic acupressure or massage
Researchers are also investigating the possibility that applying pressure to different points of the body simulates the sensation of touch, similar to acupressure and massage. Placing light weight on muscles and joints can create a calming sensation and help promote sleep. The distributed pressure of the weighted blanket can also create body awareness and provide a feeling of inner calm and confidence.
So, should I get a weighted blanket?
If you have trouble sleeping, or if you experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, a weighted blanket might be worth the investment. Since they are safe for most people and there are no known side effects, it may be worth trying one out to improve your sleep or help you relax.
What should I look for in a weighted blanket?
There are dozens of weighted blankets on the market these days. You’ll find them at mattress companies, bedding supply stores, online retailers, or even your local pharmacy. Some look like basic, functional bed comforters, but you can find pricier ones for a more luxurious, pampered experience. They come in different styles, including the chunky knitted throw you can find to layer on your bed, or smaller throw-size blankets for curling up on your sofa.
Don’t buy the first one you see. The blankets come in variety of weights. A good rule of thumb is to choose one that is 10-15 percent of your body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, look for a 15-pound blanket. A blanket that’s too heavy may be uncomfortable—not to mention unwieldy. Some companies even recommend buying a child-sized blanket, even if you’re going to use it on a larger bed.
Once you find the right covering for you, get cozy, and let the blanket do the rest.