Do weighted blankets really improve sleep?

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If listening to Zen music, counting backwards or breathing deeply in bed hasn’t got you sleeping yet, then you aren’t alone. According to The Great British Sleep Survey 2020, the uncertainty around the pandemic has affected the sleep patterns in the UK adversely, with one in three people sleeping less than before

Stressful times require extra intervention and we think now is the time to give weighted blankets a try. They have been gaining popularity as a sleep-enhancer.

Do weighted blankets improve sleep
Source: GravityBlanket

Oh! What’s a weighted blanket?

True to the name, these blankets are heavier than usual, ranging from 5 to 30 pounds by weight. By looks, they resemble a heavy quilt or duvet but beneath the cover, they have metal, glass or heavy plastic pellets sewn into pockets and distributed evenly. 

When you get under the blanket, deep pressure exerted by these fillers lend a calming effect on the body. Though there haven’t been many studies to prove the efficacy of the weighted blankets, users have experienced an uptick in their mood. Some have felt ‘hugged,’ some ‘relaxed’.

What are the benefits of the weighted blanket?

The weighted blankets have been around since the 1990s but they have come into the mainstream use only recently. These blankets were earlier used to help autistic children and their parents by the occupational therapists. 

Later, the bedding industry adopted it, selling it on the premise that weighted blanket is not just a cosy sleep accessory but also one that offers relief from anxiety, sensory issues, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia symptoms and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In 2018, brand Gravity Blanket even won the TIME’s Best Innovations Award for its weighted blanket.

Okay. What’s the Science behind the weighted blanket?

The pressure exerted by the weighted blankets mimics a therapeutic technique called deep pressure stimulation which uses firm yet gentle hugs and pressure to relax the nervous system. As a result, it has been found to relieve pain, ease anxiety symptoms, calm children with ADHD or autism, improve mood and sleep. It then becomes an attractive albeit unproven option for those who are stressed and sleep-deprived but hate being on medicines. 

While the medical world hasn’t studied its therapeutic values rigorously, smaller samples have upturned positive results. For instance, Jaime Vinson, a registered nurse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with her colleagues tried these blankets on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Participants using the blankets reported more relief from anxiety after 30 minutes than those who didn’t use it.

Moving on. How heavy should your weighted blanket be?

This is an important question because if it’s too light for your body or too heavy, it won’t serve the purpose. According to Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust states the weighted blanket should not be more than 10% of an adult’s body weight. In the case of children, it should be about five per cent of their body weight.

However, weighted blankets are not for all

In the absence of extensive research in this field, the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust doesn’t recommend using weighted blankets on a frequent basis. Plus, it says it’s not for all, particularly for children with:

  • Breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Serious hypotonia 
  • Skin problems, including certain allergies;
  • Physical, learning or any other difficulties where a child is unable to remove the blanket by himself

Should you still want your child to sleep with a weighted blanket on, then follow these safety protocols to the tee.

  • Make sure the child’s head and neck are not covered. 
  • Don’t wrap and roll your child in the weighted blanket. Just place it over.
  • The child must be able to remove the blanket independently. 
  • The weighted blanket should not be used for longer than 20 minutes at once.
  • The vital signs of the child should be observable at all times.
  • The child must be supervised at all times when under the blanket.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the recommended use of the equipment as a minimum standard for safety.

Additionally, these are unsuitable for people with

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, asthma or if you are claustrophobic or pregnant, it is better not to use weight blankets without a physician’s recommendation. The pressure of the blanket may trigger anxiety if you are claustrophobic and you may face difficulty in breathing if you suffer from sleep apnea or asthma. Its additional weight can make you uncomfortable when you are expecting.
 

So should you buy a weighted blanket?

Certified experts do not prescribe the weighted blanket as a solution to anxiety or insomnia since there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove the claims the sleep health brands make. But going by the customer feedback and anecdotal reviews, users have found their mood and sleep improve after sneaking under the weighted blanket. 

The good news is most brands offer a trial period on weighted blankets. So make an informed choice, try it at home safely and see if it works for you or not. 

Disclaimer: We are neither a medical website nor do we endorse the weighted blanket as a cure to sleep and stress disorders.

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