Weighted Blankets For Anxiety and Insomnia: Do They Work?
Weighted blankets are mentioned quite often in online sleep communities these days.
There’s a lot of positive anecdotes about them, which suggests they can be effective for not only reducing anxiety, but also sleep issues.
Research has started to be published on this subject, so I’m going to give you a quick overview of the current research on weighted blankets and if they are actually effective.
What Counts as a Weighted Blanket?
There’s no official definition of a “weighted blanket,” but it typically refers to any blanket that is significantly heavier than a regular duvet or comforter.
In general, a weighted blanket should be about 10% of your body weight, which makes a typical blanket for an adult usually around 15-20 pounds.
The weight is added using a filler, which is most commonly either plastic pellets or glass beads.
Overall, they usually cost a few hundred dollars, but there are some pretty good cheap weighted blankets that don’t cost much extra compared to normal blankets.
How Are Weighted Blankets Supposed to Improve Sleep?
The whole idea of weighted blankets having therapeutic value is by applying deep pressure stimulation while you sleep.
Deep pressure stimulation (DPS) refers to techniques or objects that apply pressure to someone (even hugging is a form of DPS).
It has been shown to cause a reduction in arousal (i.e. excitement, anxiety), which is why it’s often used to help calm people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (5).
Just because someone may not have ASD, doesn’t mean they can’t potentially benefit from DPS. Research has shown that hugging can release beneficial hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine (6).
SummaryThe extra pressure from weighted blankets can apply a form of deep pressure stimulation, which may be able to reduce anxiety and stress, which may improve sleep quality for some people.
Research on Weighted Blankets for Anxiety and Insomnia
Let’s start with a systematic review that came out in early 2020.
It found 8 valid studies to summarize and concluded (1):
Weighted blankets may be an appropriate therapeutic tool in reducing anxiety; however, there is not enough evidence to suggest they are helpful with insomnia.
However, anxiety is one of the leading causes of insomnia, so for certain people with sleep issues, weighted blankets would be effective at helping people fall asleep faster just by reducing anxiety.
With that being said, many sleep issues are not caused by anxiety, so if that's the only main mechanism that weighted blankets can improve sleep, they clearly won't work for everyone.
Weighted Blankets May Help Some People More Than Others
One study found another interesting side effect, that movement during sleep decreased when using weighted blankets (2).
So while more research is needed, it suggests weighted blankets could be effective for those with conditions like restless leg syndrome that can affect sleep.
On a related note, some researchers looked at the effect of weighted blankets on children with autism and sleep issues, who typically have a lot of restlessness (3).
While you might expect positive results, they didn’t find anything:
The use of a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep for a longer period of time, fall asleep significantly faster, or wake less often. However, the weighted blanket was favored by children and parents, and blankets were well tolerated over this period.
This is why it’s so important to have more than a few individual studies when trying to conclude whether or not a treatment method is effective.
The Type of Weighted Blanket Might Matter
One final study is a randomized controlled study that tested different types of blankets.
They looked at the effect of weighted chain blankets on people with insomnia by giving one group a “light” plastic chain blanket, and one a “heavy” metal chain blanket (4).
They found that the mean level on the ISI (insomnia severity index) went from “severe” to “subthreshold insomnia” in the group that used the heavier, metal chain blanket.
A weighted chain blanket sounds like exactly what it is - chains sewn into a blanket.
SummaryOne important variable of weighted blankets is the weight itself. A certain amount of weight, distributed evenly, may be needed to see sleep and anxiety improvements.
Which People With Insomnia Might Benefit From Weighted Blankets?
There’s so much research to be done on the effectiveness of weighted blankets on sleep.
Essentially any type of sleep problem caused by stress or restlessness may be improved with these blankets, and will be studied more in the future. This includes conditions like:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Restless leg syndrome
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- A variety of psychiatric disorders
Can Weighted Blankets Make Sleep Worse?
The good news is that while science isn’t conclusive on how effective weighted blankets may be for insomnia and anxiety, there’s low risk of side effects, so they are worth a try for most people with sleep problems.
The biggest concern is safety, especially for small children. If a blanket is too heavy, it can make it harder to breathe.
In addition, while it varies across products, some weighted blankets can make you hotter, which can actually make sleep quality worse.
Finally, some people may have conditions that a weighted blanket might trigger:
- Low blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Respiratory problems
So while the chances of negative effects from weighted blankets are relatively low compared to other potential sleep treatments, there are some people they are certainly not suitable for, and others that should consult their doctor first before trying.
Summary: Do Weighted Blankets Work For Insomnia and Anxiety?
Overall research on weighted blankets is still in an early stage.
There are promising results that suggest that weighted blankets can have a positive effect on both anxiety and insomnia. This could have many potential benefits, even weight loss.
However, some studies have failed to find positive results of using weighted blankets, suggesting that the type and weight of weighted blanket matters, and results will vary among individuals with different anxiety or sleep issues.
One final thing to consider is that they are a safe potential treatment option for sleep or anxiety issues, and even in the studies where there was no positive effect, subjects all found them comfortable.
See our list of weighted blanket pros and cons if you're still having trouble deciding on trying one or not.
Which Weighted Blanket is Best For You?
If you’d like to try a weighted blanket, it’s worth a shot in many cases.
While the math is fairly simple, you still might want to use this weighted blanket calculator to pick an appropriate weight.
There are many lists of recommended products online, but you can see my list of the best weighted blankets made in the USA if you’d like my thoughts.
- Weighted Blanket Use: A Systematic Review
- Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia
- Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children--a randomized controlled trial
- A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders
- Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation on Physiological Arousal
- Influence of a "warm touch" support enhancement intervention
Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.