Weighted Blankets for Anxiety and Insomnia – How Do They Work?

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Is your anxiety keeping you up at night? You may have already made multiple attempts to relax at bedtime but nothing seems to work. Here’s one possible solution we think you should consider: a weighted blanket.

Originally designed for special needs communities, it wasn’t long before mainstream society discovered how weighted blankets could help both anxiety and insomnia.

We’ll cover everything you need to know about this type of therapeutic cover, including how it could help you sleep better, what other health conditions should benefit from them, and additional advantages they can provide.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

This type of bedcover is designed to be heavier than a standard blanket. They are filled with small objects – typically plastic pellets or glass beads – to make them more dense. The goal is to provide an ample amount of deep pressure to help you feel physically and emotionally relaxed.

These blankets can come in different, sizes, fabrics, colors, and weights. They can be more expensive than a traditional blanket, with certain styles costing nearly $300, but you can find some that are under $100 as well.

There is also a variety of added features among these products. Some are constructed to provide cooling for those who sleep hot, while others are perfect for those who need comfort while traveling.

Illustration of a Person Covered With Weighted Blanket

Deep Pressure Therapy

Weighted blankets are considered a form of Deep Pressure Therapy[1] (DPT), which is also known as Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) or Pressure Therapy. This style of therapy focuses on using extra pressure to calm the nervous system.

Other DPT techniques are squeezing, hugging, or holding. Deep pressure can be applied using the hands, massage tools such as rollers, or weighted blankets.

Why Are Weighted Blankets Good for Anxiety and Insomnia?

Anxiety and insomnia are often closely linked, as the first can trigger the latter.

According to Penn Medicine[2], severe cases of anxiety cause a physical reaction in which your body feels as though it’s in a constant state of stress. This reaction from your nerve system is known as “flight or fight response.” Symptoms can include a rapid heart rate and breathing.

However, the weight of these blankets puts pressure against your entire body and signals your nervous system to be at rest, which should lower your heart rate and leave you feeling calmer.

A 2006 study[3] looked at the effect of weighted blankets on a group of 32 adults. They found that 63 percent of participants reported lower anxiety after using them.

Want to know more? Check out our guide on how anxiety affect our sleep.

How Heavy Should It Be?

The weight among these throws can vary. Some have a few pounds of added weight, while others may have an additional 20 pounds on them. For children, it’s recommended they only use ones that are only a few pounds heavy.

Other Benefits of a Weighted Blanket

Better Sleep Maintenance

This treatment could help improve both the quantity and sleep quality. A study[4] published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders found that the calming effect of the extra weight caused patients to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly throughout the night. They also reported feeling more refreshed in the morning.

Releases Serotonin and Reduces Stress

Weighted blankets are designed to provide the same effect as hugging[5]. When we get a warm hug from someone, our body releases feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine while also decreasing our cortisol (stress) hormones. This process can allow you to feel more relaxed, which in turn, should help you doze off.

Improves Focus

Another advantage of heavy throws is that they may help improve focus[6]. When we’re sleep-deprived, our cognitive abilities become diminished, including the ability to concentrate. Therefore, if a weighted blanket helps treat insomnia, this should help you focus better.

Who Should Use Them?

In addition to those struggling with insomnia, health experts suggest weighted blankets can be used to help treat individuals with other health conditions.

Depression

We covered earlier that weighted blankets are known to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. These feel-good hormones can help boost your mood, a highly beneficial trait for people who experience depression.

Illustration of a Sad Woman Traveling to Work

ADHD

Penn Medicine reports that these weighted blankets are beneficial for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who can become easily distracted. The weight of the blanket activates the child’s sense of touch so that they’re less likely to become diverted by other sensory things such as nearby sounds.

Get More Info: Adhd and Sleep Disorders Guide

OCD

Researchers have found that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder[7] (OCD) have lower serotonin levels, and medications to increase serotonin are used to treat OCD. Therefore, weighted blankets, which can also raise serotonin levels, may help alleviate OCD symptoms.

PTSD

Those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may also benefit from this pressure therapy. People with PTSD can have trouble sleeping or high stress and anxiety levels, all of which a heavy blanket could help with.

Bipolar Disorder

A 2020 study[8] on the effects of weighted blankets for psychiatric disorders found that they effectively treated insomnia in those with Bipolar Disorder.

Autism

According to Penn Medicine, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can experience stress and anxiety from social interactions or too much stimulation, which this form of therapy could alleviate.

View Our Full Guide: Autism and Sleeping Problems

Illustration of a Kid with Autism Sleeping

Tourette Syndrome

This disorder[9] is when a person exhibits repetitive movements or involuntary sounds they have minimal control over. Individuals with Tourette’s may develop additional symptoms such as negative moods or difficulty concentrating, and deep pressure therapy may help minimize these side effects.

Dementia

The mood-boosting effects of pressure therapy from weighted blankets may also decrease agitation and aggression in older adults with Dementia.

Additionally, too little shuteye can impair your memory[10] and increase your risk of Dementia, so, therefore, if weighted blankets help provide restful sleep, this should lower your risk of developing the disease.

Illustration of an Elderly Man Sleeping in a Nursing Home

Cerebral Palsy

Health experts say weighted blankets can also be helpful for children with cerebral palsy[11], a condition that impairs a person’s ability to move and remain balanced. A child living with cerebral palsy may feel added stress and anxiety as a result of this condition, and the calming effect of pressure therapy could help.

Restless Leg Syndrome

People with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) may also find these throws therapeutic. Healthcare professionals say this is because the pressure can override the sensations RLS patients experience in their legs[12].

Animated Image of a Man Suffering from A Restless Leg Syndrome

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe for babies and toddlers?

We mentioned earlier that heavy blankets for kids should only weigh a few extra pounds, and they can be used to help children with different conditions such as ADHD and Autism. However, they may be dangerous for infants due to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)[13], which can happen if a baby becomes too warm while asleep or becomes trapped in the bedding.

We recommend following the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics by not placing any bedding in the cribs of children under a year old. When it comes to toddlers, we recommend asking your pediatrician if a weighted blanket is right for your child.

Sources and References:

  • [1] What is Deep Pressure Stimulation?, Applied Behavior Analysis
  • [2]More Than Just a Fad: 4 Ways Weighted Blankets Can Actually Help You, Penn Medicine, February 5, 2019
  • [3] Brian Mullen BS, Tina Champagne MEd OTR/L, Sundar Krishnamurty PhD, Debra Dickson APRN, BC, Robert X. Gao PhD, “Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket”, Taylor & Francis Online, 2006
  • [4] R. Ackerly, G. Badre, H. Olausson, “Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia”, JSciMed Central, 2015
  • [5]How Weighted Blankets May Lift Anxiety, Mayo Clinic, May 16, 2019
  • [6] Paula Alhola, Päivi Polo-Kantola, “Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance”, National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • [7] What Causes OCD?”, International OCD Foundation
  • [8] “A Randomized Controlled Study of Weighted Chain Blankets for Insomnia in Psychiatric Disorders”, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
  • [9] Tourette Syndrome, Mayo Clinic, August 8, 2018
  • [10] Lack of Sleep in Middle Age May Increase Dementia Risk, National Institutes of Health, April 27, 2021
  • [11] Weighted Blankets Bring Calm and Comfort, Gillette Children’s, June 6, 2016
  • [12] Do Weighted Blankets Really Work?, Alaska Regional Hospital, November 18, 2019
  • [13] Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Mayo Clinic, May 20, 2020
Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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