Why do weighted blankets work and should I be using one?
Many people find weighted blankets help them feel calm and secure, and improve their sleep too. They provide a gentle weight, spread evenly over your body. But do the claims stack up, and if so, why do weighted blankets work?
What is a weighted blanket?
Weighted blankets have a filling that makes them heavier than other blankets. Lap-blanket style weighted blankets commonly have a yarn filling, whereas duvet-style weighted blankets often use metal, glass or plastic beads to add weight instead. The filling options mean they can weigh anything from 2 to 13 kilos, depending on which weighted blanket you choose.
Much of the information available about weighted blankets online is US-based, but what is a weighted blanket in the UK? Weighted blankets sold in the UK are essentially the same as those abroad, but you may need to convert the weights to work out the right weight blanket for you.
How do weighted blankets work?
If you’ve not tried a weighted blanket, you may have wondered how and why weighted blankets work? Weighted blankets are thought to mimic a technique known as deep pressure therapy. Deep pressure stimulation applies controlled pressure to help relieve anxiety and reduce pain.
It’s thought that this pressure may stimulate the release of serotonin (a ‘happy’ chemical that can help us feel calmer), and increase melatonin (a hormone that helps you feel sleepy). Together, this may help improve your sleep quality. Weighted blankets are also said to help you feel secure and cosy, just like a swaddle helps infants feel snug.
Weighted blanket benefits
By providing gentle pressure, weighted blankets can help you feel calm, secure and ready for sleep. Some of the apparent benefits of weighted blankets are well supported by research, and others are less certain. Weighted blankets work better for some people than others. So why use a weighted blanket, and what are the benefits?
A weighted blanket may help manage stress and anxiety, and because anxiety can disrupt your sleep, weighted blankets may have a positive impact on your sleep. So if you find anxious thoughts make it hard for you to fall asleep, a weighted blanket might help.
Sleep disorders are conditions that affect sleep quality and duration and impact a person’s ability to function while they are awake.
Weighted blankets are thought to help you doze off quickly and easily by reducing stress. One study of people with sleep disorders, such as insomnia, found that sleep bout time increased and sleepers moved less in their sleep when using a weighted blanket.
The participants also reported liking using weighted blankets and finding it easier to go to sleep. Overall, weighted blankets can help you have a calmer and better quality night’s sleep.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Sleep problems sometimes accompany ADHD, which in turn can affect everyday social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
A retrospective study of children and adults diagnosed with ADHD and/ or autism found that using a weighted blanket made it easier for the participants to fall asleep, and stay asleep during the night. However, better sleep hygiene may have played a role in these improvements, and further study is needed.
Sleep problems are also very common in people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This may be due to difficulties with relaxing or winding down, as well as differences in REM sleep in children with autism.
Poor sleep can have knock-on effects on academic performance, social interaction and daily life for autistic people. Similarly to ADHD, weighted blankets have been found to help autistic people fall asleep more easily, and stay asleep during the night. Many people with autism enjoy using weighted blankets too.
Chronic pain disorders
Pain is notoriously bad for sleep. It can prevent you from nodding off, wake you up throughout the night and impact the quality of the sleep that you do get too.
Although pressure is known to reduce acute (short term) pain, there is less certainty about its effect on chronic (long term) pain. A study that considered the perception of chronic pain when using weighted blankets found that they reduced the participants overall perception of pain. However, the pain intensity wasn’t affected by using a weighted blanket.
It’s thought that the deep pressure provided by a weighted blanket affects how people perceive sensations from their bodies, altering how they experience pain. Overall, a weighted blanket can help reduce the severity of chronic pain. If you find that using heat, such as a heat pad, helps manage your pain, a heated weighted blanket combines both heat and pressure for tackling pain.
How heavy should my weighted blanket be?
The ideal weight of your blanket is dependent on your age and weight. Your personal preferences may also be for a slightly heavier or lighter blanket. As a good rule of thumb, your weighted blanket shouldn’t weigh more than 5-10% of your body weight. The table here provides a rough guide for a range of body weights:
|Your weight||Suggested blanket weight|
|7 to 8.5 stone (approx. 45 to 54 kg)||10 to 12 lbs (approx. 5 to 6 kg)|
|8.5 to 10 stone (approx. 54 to 64 kg)||12 to 14 lbs (approx. 6 to 7 kg)|
|10 to 11 stone (approx. 64 to 70 kg)||14 to 16 lbs (approx. 7 to 8 kg)|
|11 to 13 stone (approx. 70 to 82 kg)||16 to 18 lbs (approx. 8 to 9 kg)|
|13 to 14 stone (approx. 82 to 91 kg )||18 to 20 lbs (approx. 9 to 10 kg)|
Are there risks involved with using a weighted blanket?
Weighted blankets are generally considered to be safe, but it’s important that they aren’t used by people who can’t lift the blanket off. A blanket that is too heavy for the user to lift can pose a suffocation or entrapment risk. Risks and things to consider before buying or using a weighted blanket include:
- Weighted blankets aren’t suitable for infants, toddlers and young children, as there is a risk they may become trapped.
- Stick to the recommended weight for the user’s weight.
- When using it for older children and teens, check that the blanket is suitable for children.
- Weighted blankets may not provide the same sleep benefits to children as they may to adults.
- People with certain medical conditions should get medical advice before using a weighted blanket. This includes people with respiratory and circulatory conditions, asthma, claustrophobia, low blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
- People with sleep apnoea shouldn’t use weighted blankets, as the pressure of the blanket may restrict air flow.
So why use a weighted blanket?
Although much of the discussion around weighted blankets is US-based, there are many weighted blanket benefits for people in the UK too. The gentle pressure provided by a weighted blanket may help you feel calm by lowering your heart rate and slowing your breathing, and helping you feel safe and protected.
Improve your lifestyle in other ways
If you struggle to nod off quickly, or stay asleep, a weighted blanket could be a useful addition to your sleep routine. However, it’s important to not rely solely on a weighted blanket, or let other aspects of good sleep hygiene slip. Improving your lifestyle, such as by managing pain and stress, avoiding blue light and ensuring your bed is comfortable, are essential for a good night’s sleep.