Does a Weighted Blanket Actually Relieve Your Anxiety? Experts Explain
Plus, the best ones you can buy to help with your mental health.
Keeping up with the surge of "cure-all" wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they're worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they're just hype.
Deep, rejuvenating, restorative sleep. While this is the goal, it's unfortunately not the reality for many people. Part of that has to do with society's never-ending stimulation, from intriguing podcasts to captivating novels to marathon-worthy television shows along with the FOMO that's associated with checking out early from social activities. Of course, when we let these things dominate our mindscape, anxiety commonly comes along for the ride. Fortunately, where sleep and anxiety overlap, weighted blankets exist to help lessen the burden and strengthen the restorative sleep space.
Surely you've heard of weighted blankets. Luxury department stores, boho brands, and even your local Target and Walmart have hopped on the sleep wellness trend—and for good reason. While scientific studies and research on the cult-favorite blankets are sparse, sleep experts and psychotherapists applaud their ability to reduce anxiety and restless thoughts to help make way for a calmer, clearer night's sleep.
At the end of the day, that's the dream, right? To learn how weighted blankets just might be the answer to your anxious sleep-related prayers, keep reading for what the experts have to say on the matter.
What is a weighted blanket?
Despite the scarcity of research on the effectiveness of weighted blankets, Your Therapist psychotherapist Haley Neidich explains that weighted blankets are a wonderful tool for people struggling with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and PTSD thanks to their ability to help individuals live (and sleep) in the moment. "Individuals suffering from these conditions often feel disconnected from their body and emotionally unsafe," she says. "Weighted blankets help to ground their bodies [by] creating a sense of safety and stability."
Kathrin Hamm, the CEO and founder of Bearaby—arguably the most popular weighted blanket brand on the market—takes it a step further, noting that the reason weighted blankets are so helpful for people who struggle with these mental health conditions is that they harness the power of deep touch pressure, also known as DTP. "DTP mimics the sensation of being hugged, and this stimulates the release of serotonin and melatonin—two neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep and mood," she explains.
How do weighted blankets help with anxiety?
By regulating serotonin and melatonin, weighted blankets are also able to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone that exacerbates anxiety, depression, and PTSD. As such, Tara Youngblood—physicist, leading sleep expert, and the cofounder and CEO of ChiliSleep—says that the deep touch pressure a weighted blanket offers helps decrease activity in your nervous system, slow a racing mind, and, ultimately, help lower anxiety levels at bedtime.
Also, due to the evenly distributed weight of these blankets, they help anxious people not only fall asleep but stay asleep thanks to how they gently inhibit movement throughout the night. So, if you regularly toss and turn while you sleep, a weighted blanket can help you achieve a more restful slumber.
And that's not just talk. From personal experience, I can attest to just how effective weighted blankets are at reducing anxiety and preventing waking up in the middle of the night, as I sleep with my Bearaby Velvet Napper each and every night. When 2020 and the pandemic took charge, my sleep patterns were completely out of whack thanks to a forever racing mind. Every night, I'd have trouble not only falling asleep but staying asleep, too. So, to say that I'm impressed with my semi-newfound ability to snooze from the time I go to sleep to the time I wake up is nothing short of an understatement. And I'm not the only one.
"My clients who use weighted blankets often report sleeping for more hours per night and feeling better rested than without the blanket," Neidich shares, noting that the blankets can be used beyond bedtime. "A weighted blanket can also be a terrific tool during a panic attack or dissociative trauma episode during the day. Wrapping yourself in the blanket can help to calm your nervous system and create a sense of safety that is not achieved to the same effect with a traditional blanket."
Do weighted blankets work?
Now that just about every home retailer is launching their very own weighted blanket, you might think that any additional weight will get the job done—but not so fast. According to Hamm, two things impact how well a weighted blanket works.
"The first is how evenly the weight of the blanket is distributed over your body," she says. "Traditionally, weighted blankets are made by filling the inner lining of a blanket with pockets of plastic pellets or beads. Despite being useful in making the blanket heavy, these fillers can pile up into a corner, unevenly distributing the weight."
Instead of buying a weighted blanket with these synthetic fillers, Hamm recommends opting for a layered fabric that doesn't sacrifice on comfort, style, or weight—as is the case with all of Bearaby's Napper offerings. "We've figured out a way to layer organic cotton fabric to create a weighted yarn that's then used to hand-knit our Nappers," she shares. "The result is a filler-free weighted blanket that ensures evenly distributed weight and, ultimately, more effective DTP."
The second thing impacting how well a weighted blanket works is breathability. "A common complaint of conventional weighted blankets is that people tend to wake up feeling hot and sweaty during the night," Hamm explains. "The open-weave knit design of our Bearaby weighted blankets keeps air circulating and doesn't trap your body heat. This increases airflow and, because we also use only natural fibers and no artificial fillers, means our weighted blankets are cozy and cool at the same time."
Of course, Bearaby isn't the only option when it comes to weighted blankets. Some of the other best weighted blankets—like the Luna Cotton Weighted Blanket and Casper Weighted Blanket—are neutral and feature stitched paneling.
How heavy should a weighted blanket be?
Beyond looks, you have to think about size. According to Youngblood, in order for a weighted blanket to be effective, it must be approximately 10% of your body weight—so, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should buy a 15-pound weighted blanket. But let's be clear: Just because it's only 10% of your body weight doesn't mean it won't be 100% worth it. Try one for yourself to see firsthand.