Part of our brains still believe we are living in dangerous caves in the wild, craving our safety. If you suffer from anxiety or chronic insomnia, then that primal feeling of “hiding in a nest” may be precisely what you are missing.
So should you go ahead and build a new blanket fort in your bedroom? Well, that sounds like a quirky weekend adventure, but it’s not practical daily. Instead, weighted blankets now promise you a chance to swaddle yourself, calming your panic or racing thoughts in the process.
What’s the Deal With Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are heavy quilts filled with tiny glass beads or plastic pellets that make them significantly heavier. Depending on the size and quality, they can weigh anywhere between 5 and 30 pounds.
How weighted blankets work
Weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation or a gentle heaviness all around your body. Neurologists believe deep pressure stimulation can relieve anxiety, block other sensory stimulation (such as background noise or shimmering lights), and contribute to more restful sleep.
Weighted blankets are not a new concept – but they have risen in popularity greatly after 2017. Before that, they were primarily used for children with an autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental problems. When they are overstimulated, a weighted blanket can offer autistic children a haven where they can decompress, preventing a meltdown.
The same concept applies to adults with anxiety and panic disorder, or even with stress – after all, what is chronic stress but permanently on guard from unseen, ever-lurking threats?
Has this been tested?
Weighted blankets are a bit hard to test. It is challenging to have a proper “blind” control group, as participants can immediately tell whether they are given a weighted blanket or a regular one. We do have decades of clinical experience using them on psychiatric wards, plus several smaller studies that offered promising results.
Their effectiveness may not be universal, but on a routine basis, at least 60% of people with insomnia or panic disorder experienced better sleep after using a weighted blanket for at least 5 minutes.
A different study conducted on children with hyperactivity and autism spectrum disorder found that weighted blankets could improve sleep and lower anxiety levels during the following day.
And if you are driving yourself ragged counting sheep for hours on end, then it is worth a try!
Should I Invest in A Weighted Blanket?
Deep pressure stimulation (and by extension, weighted blankets) can help people with any of the following conditions:
- Generalized anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
In these cases, a weighted blanket can help you lower anxiety and slow down your heart rate after just five minutes. Sleeping under a weighted blanket will help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep. On winter nights, some models can also provide some extra warmth.
However, they are far from a universal cure. The extra weight can get too hot or uncomfortable (although some models include a layer of cooling gel).
In addition, some people may find deep pressure uncomfortable or triggering. Check with a doctor before buying a weighted blanket if you have any of the following conditions:
- Sleep apnea
- Emphysema or other respiratory problems
How to Choose the Right Weighted Blanket
Thanks to their increased popularity, weighted blankets are now available in a much larger variety of models. They remain significantly more expensive than regular quilts, with prices starting at around $30 but can easily surpass $150.
Before making such an investment, it’s best to research the right type of weighted blanket for you. Consider the following features:
To work, the blanket should weigh at least 10% of your body weight. More is not always better, as going above 15% can make it feel too constrictive.
Some weighted blankets use a similar synthetic material as duvets. This is great as long as the cover is removable: it will make it easy to wash, dry, and reuse. Others use cotton, fleece, or even bamboo fabric. These materials may be cooler and softer on your skin, but they require you to dry-clean the blanket.
Quality weighted blankets should have a series of small inner pockets around their cover, which will prevent the inner beads or shards from shifting around during use. Otherwise, you may end up with an overly heavy blanket on one side – and a very expensive duvet on the other.
Some newer models now replace the layer of beads with a line of heavier weights around the blanket’s edges. The idea is that gravity will pull the edges down and replicate the pressure while keeping the total weight lower. Keep in mind that these models only work if you have a raised bed: the blanket edges need to be hanging from the sides.
Weighted blankets are usually filled with either glass or plastic pellets. Plastic pellets are generally cheaper but lighter than glass beads. As a result, plastic-filled blankets are usually thicker than glass ones of the same weight rating.
If you live in a warm region or don’t have A/C at home, weighted blankets can quickly create a sauna beneath them. Some models counter this by adding a layer of cooling gel to the bottom side of the blanket.
Anxiety and stress are likely to be one of the silent plagues of modern living. If your worries and racing thoughts are getting in the way of your sleep, weighted blankets can make a difference. Naturally, they will work much better if combined with a more holistic mental health awareness plan. Outdoor exercise, mindfulness exercises, and talk therapy will also help create a solid foundation for inner serenity.
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Image Credit: Photo by Jordan Bigelow on Unsplash