Everywhere I turned, I saw them. They lined the shelves at Target. They were advertised every time I visited Amazon to get a quick online shopping fix. I’m talking, of course, about weighted blankets. The trendy invention—which purports to calm anxiety and help people get better sleep at night—had officially invaded the zeitgeist. And the marketing worked: After seeing weighted blankets on every shelf and every website, my curiosity was piqued. Should I give this blanket of the moment a try?
Wait, so what’s a weighted blanket, anyway?
I spoke with Caroline Fenkel, L.C.S.W., an executive director at teen rehab and mental health facility Newport Academy, to get the low-down on what—if anything—makes weighted blankets special. For starters, “weighted blankets are blankets lined with evenly distributed weight, in order to provide gentle pressure and create the feeling of being held,” Fenkel says. Weighted blankets can be anywhere from 5 pounds to 25 pounds, which is definitely heavier than your average throw.
It’s pretty hard to argue with the coziness inherent to “the feeling of being held,” but is there any truth to the claims that weighted blankets can benefit those with anxiety and/or insomnia? “Research shows that weighted blankets create what’s known as deep touch pressure stimulation,” Fenkel says. Deep touch pressure stimulation is a form of therapy that’s been studied for decades. It basically involves applying tactile pressure—like hugs, firm strokes, cuddles, squeezes, compression or swaddling—to encourage relaxation. “[This practice] promotes the release of serotonin and melatonin—chemicals that regulate sleep and mood—while also reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” Fenkel explains. “[Plus], weighted blankets mimic the experience of a hug, which is proven to release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces blood pressure, slows heart rate and promotes relaxation.”
In other words, weighted blankets are basically a goldmine for reducing stress and improving sleep—an assertion research has generally backed up. A Taylor & Francis Online study found that in a sample of 32 adults, 63 percent of participants reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket. This is a tiny sample size—and one that isn’t necessarily nationally representative—so we should take these results with a grain of salt. Still, other research has dug up similar findings. Another similarly small study, published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, found that 4 in 5 participants who slept with a weighted blanket found it easier to settle down for sleep, slept longer, had higher sleep quality and were more refreshed when they woke up in the morning.
Now let’s be real, here—a lot of this research has featured too few people to draw clear, causal conclusions. (We need way bigger, more nationally representative sample sizes before we can do that. And even then, we need a true, experimental research structure.) But what we can gather is this: The hype around weighted blankets seems to be somewhat justified. And if something might help you destress or get a better night’s sleep, it’s probably worth a shot, right?
And do they live up to the hype outside of research?
Since research has yet to demonstrate a clear, causal relationship between weighted blankets and their purported benefits, I wanted to give weighted blankets an IRL try. According to Fenkel, weighted blankets can be particularly great for people with ADHD, anxiety disorders, autism, sleep disorders, sensory processing disorders, insomnia or chronic pain. I don’t really fall into that target audience. I have very mild anxiety—usually stemming from stressful work situations—and when it hits, I definitely experience some sleepless nights. But these moments of severe stress are somewhat rare for me. Still, I was still intrigued (and honestly, skeptical) to see if I’d enjoy any of the weighted blanket’s purported benefits, so I snagged the Therapedic Reversible Weighted Blanket ($129.99-$209.99, Bed, Bath & Beyond). It was pretty well reviewed, and I figured I might as well go big or go home, right?
Fun fact: The weighted blanket buying process doesn’t just involve figuring out which option is the best reviewed—you also need to consider how heavy you want the thing to be. Like I said before, weighted blankets run quite the gamut in terms of weight, and how are you to know whether you want a 5-pounder or a 25-pounder? Some experts have offered a quick and dirty formula to answer this question: You want your weighted blanket to be 10 percent of your body weight, plus one or two pounds. So if you’re 150 pounds, you’ll want something around 16 or 17 pounds (15 pounds plus one or two). But—and I mean this—check with a health care professional first. This is a thing that’s literally going to be pressing down on you all night long, so it pays to make sure you’re buying the right weighted blanket for you before you, ya know, drop a ton of cash on it.
Now, to the verdict: When I first opened the box containing my weighted blanket, I was surprised by how heavy it was. (Seriously, you could do an at-home workout with that thing.) Then, I was even more surprised to realize how light and calming it felt when it was actually draped over my body. Over the next few days, as I began to use my weighted blanket more regularly, I became seriously attached to it. Every time my boyfriend and I sat down to get our Olivia Benson on (Law and Order: SVU, guys), I caught myself reaching for—well, struggling to reach for—my weighted blanket. It’s become an absolute staple in my living room basket of blankets, and I could wax poetic about this thing for days.
My weighted blanket hasn’t changed my life, or anything, but it’s definitely kept me calm and comfortable. I don’t know if it’s happenstance or if it’s the blanket, but my mental state has definitely improved since I’ve had this magical layer of fluff in my life every night for the past several weeks.TL;DR? I would absolutely recommend people give weighted blankets a try—even if their anxiety is rare. Not only do they make lying on the couch and sleeping much cozier, but they’re super nice and warm—and they really do feel as comforting as a hug. (And who doesn’t want that?)