Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Would you sleep better with a weighted blanket?

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Story at a glance

  • Weighted blankets have been around for a while but are more affordable and popular than ever.
  • There isn’t a lot of research on the actual benefits of using a weighted blanket, but some studies suggest it could help with falling asleep.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, consider trying a weighted blanket that is at least 10 percent of your body weight for a few nights. Borrow one if you can!

Weighted blankets have been around for more than 10 years, but have recently seen an uptick in popularity. There aren’t many studies on weighted blankets in adults, but there’s some research on weighted blankets in children with autism and people with depression or anxiety. We spoke to some researchers looking for ways that weighted blankets might help people sleep better.

Bryan Gee of Idaho State University says a large proportion of his caseload as a pediatric occupational therapist is children on the autism spectrum, and sleep is a big concern for many of them. “I started doing…what we call a sensory-based intervention,” says Gee. He runs month-long studies in which he tracks sleep and sleep quality in children before and after using weighted blankets.

The few studies that have been done on weighted blankets show that they may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, but they can’t offer any definitive conclusions for whether it improves sleep quality. “It’s really not showing that much significant change,” says Gee. “It’s more so selling significance based on the caregiver’s perception, as opposed to having an objective measure like a sleep tracker.” But by the nature of their study design their sample size is very small, with only a few individuals per study, so more research is needed.

“Kids on the autism spectrum, about 95 percent of them have a sensory processing disturbance,” says Gee. “And so you give them something that’s enhancing their sensory experience, they may prefer that. It may not change sleep quality, sleep duration, and the number of times they wake up in the night and time to fall asleep.” But even if it is only a preference, that’s not to say it’s insignificant and invalid as an intervention, with the guidance of a medical professional.

In adults with anxiety, a weighted blanket can provide comfort through evenly distributed weight along the body. “This pressure gives a kind of calming feeling, and it also hinders moving too much,” says somnologist Gaby Badre of the University of Gothenburg. It can decrease anxiety by activating the autonomic nervous system by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, he adds. In their studies, they use weighted blankets with metal chains rather than other sources of weight like balls and pellets because they give a more uniform distribution of weight. But they also didn’t find that it always made a difference. “We didn’t find tremendous impact if you have a very heavy insomnia,” says Badre. “If it’s mild or moderate, it has quite a good effect.”

One reason why Gee says he’s doing more research on weighted blankets is that they’re much more affordable now. You can find them in places like Walmart for $50 nowadays, compared to when he started in 2016 and a blanket could cost about $300. 

If you find it hard to fall asleep and think that feeling hugged by a heavy blanket would help, try it out yourself. Go for a blanket that weighs at least around 10 percent of your bodyweight and try it for a few nights. If you go heavier, it might actually be more uncomfortable and could be a safety risk for children if they can’t get out from under a blanket that’s too heavy. Another thing to keep in mind is if the weighted blanket makes you too hot, because that can affect your quality of sleep. All in all, weighted blankets are still experimental, but it’s an experiment you can do yourself. And it wouldn’t take long for you to know, maybe a day or two, says Gee.

In the end it could be something else that could help you more: your sleep hygiene. Gee says this means your usual routine before you go to bed, even having structured activities for the two hours before bed. But that’s different kind of study for another time.