Are weighted blankets really the sleep cure-all you’ve been searching for? Here’s what you need to know

There’s nothing like the feeling of being wrapped in a warm hug as you drift off to sleep. That snuggly feeling is just one of the declared benefits of weighted blankets, one of the biggest wellness trends of the year. If the  holiday shopping season was any indication, tons of people are in need of the pressure that a weighted blanket provides. But what is a weighted blanket? And is this sleep product really all that it promises to be? If you’re one of the many who was gifted a weighted blanket for Christmas, here’s what you need to know.

As a massage therapist, I understand the relaxation benefits that come from deep pressure. I also suffer from anxiety and restless leg syndrome, which has devastatingly altered my ability to fall asleep at night (I was once a champion sleeper). Since I often wear compression socks to help with my restless legs (which honestly might be a placebo), a weighted blanket seemed like a great whole-body alternative, so I got on board with the trend just before the New Year.

To understand what weighed blankets are—and why they’ve become so trendy recently—HelloGiggles spoke to the founder of SensaCalm, Donna Chambers. Chambers has been making weighted blankets since 2008 when her grandson was diagnosed with autism and she learned about therapy blankets, a tool long used in sensory integration therapy to support autism patients.

What is a weighted blanket?

Weighted blankets are simply blankets that have weight added to them for therapeutic purposes. While some companies, like Sheltered Co., use only natural fabrics to add weight, most weighted blankets are filled with other materials. Some companies, like SensaCalm, use polypropylene pellets and polyfill to add weight (though polyfill can be removed by request). Other companies, like Magic Weighted Blanket, use just poly pellets while others still, like Flat Hippo, prefer to use glass beads or stainless steel microbeads.

How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

Recommendations for the amount of weight to use are usually based on your total body weight. For instance, My Calm Blanket recommends the blanket be 7-12% of your weight, Gravity blankets recommends 10% of your weight, and SensaCalm recommends 10% of your weight plus one pound for a small blanket, two pounds for a medium blanket, and three pounds for a large blanket. While many companies go with the 10% number, researchers are still working to determine the ideal proportion.

An occupational therapist wrote in a blog post for National Autism Resources that the appropriate weight could even be up to 20% of your body weight, depending on your situation, and Red Barn Blankets noted that the 10% weight measurement doesn’t take personal preference or size of the blanket into consideration.

What size weighted blanket do you need?

SensaCalm says that the blanket should fit the size of your body—not the size of your bed. So if you share a queen-size or king-size bed with a partner, you don’t want the blanket to act as a comforter for the entire bed. However, the company Bearaby claims to make the only weighted blanket that can be shared with a partner and customized to on your individual needs.

What are the benefits of a weighted blanket?

Chambers started SensaCalm to help provide products for people with sensory needs, but she has written about the many benefits of weighted blankets for others. Along with helping address symptoms of autism, Chambers says weighted blankets may help with insomnia, anxiety, stress, fibromyalgia pain, restless legs, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

As for why more people who don’t have special needs are seeking out weighted blankets, Chambers noted the connection between health and stress. “These days people are so busy, overworked, tired, and stressed. Between the drain of living in a 24-hour news cycle on multiple electronic devices and just trying to stay above water with life’s daily struggles, stress is being recognized as a legit root of many illnesses,” Chambers told HelloGiggles.

1They can make you feel less anxious.

"A large segment of the public would rather seek natural ways to soothe their anxiety instead of simply medicating. This is why weighted blankets have grown in popularity as more people learn what the sensory-needs community has known for well over a decade. The deep pressure touch stimulation therapy of a weighted blanket (that firm, gentle, and consistent pressure on the body) can make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and less anxious."

2They can help with insomnia.

One study, published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders in 2015, looked at how weighted blankets could help soothe insomnia. Researchers noted that the participants had a decrease in movement during sleep while using the blankets. And subjectively, the participants noted that they liked the blankets because they gave them a more secure-feeling sleep.

3They can help people with ADHD.

There have also been studies around whether weighted blankets can help children ADHD, such as one in 2010 that looked at 21 children diagnosed ADHD and 21 children without and found that weighted blankets helped the children with ADHD fall asleep more quickly.

Despite the lack of definitive results, you may still want to try a weighted blanket if you have trouble sleeping. “Some people may benefit. For people with insomnia or restless sleepers (or their partners), a weighted blanket may provide a calmer sleep,” Dr. Lansen said. But they are quite an investment, since a quick search shows that they can range from anywhere between $50 and $300 depending on the size and weight.

What should you look for when buying a weighted blanket?

If you are set on getting a weighted blanket, look for a company that’s transparent about its materials and is widely and well-reviewed online. Added Chambers, “When you invest in a high-end product like a custom weighted blanket, you want to be sure the company that you go with will be around in another six months in case you have a problem that you need help with.”

As for my personal experience, I’ve only had my blanket for two weeks so I’m still testing it out. So far I’ve found that it can make me run a bit hotter during sleep, but it is comforting.

While I haven’t found myself falling asleep much faster just yet and I still have restless legs, I didn’t expect that my nearly five years of sleep issues would be erased instantly by a single blanket. But as I try to fix my sleep habits (which include maintaining a more normal sleep schedule, not drinking caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime, and not playing games on my phone), I’m glad to have my weighted blanket along for the ride to snoozetown to provide natural, drug-free sleep support.

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