Popularized in the late ‘90s by occupational therapist Tina Champagne, weighted blankets have been used as sleep aids and calming tools in special-needs communities for years. Also known as “gravity blankets,” weighted blankets are heavier than a typical comforter, and thought to calm the nervous system with a “grounding” effect. While weighted blankets have become a commonly used item, it’s important to understand the risks that come with their many purported benefits. Explore our weighted blanket FAQ and learn how to implement this therapeutic item into your toolkit safely.
How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
Weighing between 5 and 30 pounds, weighted blankets work because of something called deep pressure stimulation, or DPS. In DPS, firm but gentle pressure is applied to the body to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The result is an increase in the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine, and a decrease in cortisol, the notorious stress hormone. While DPS can use hands-on pressure like massage or squeezing, a weighted blanket is a tool that may be used without the help of another person (see safety measures below regarding children). For those struggling with anxiety or an attention disorder, a weighted blanket provides quick relief by refocusing attention to the sensory experience and helping them feel calmer and sleep better.
What Are the Benefits of Weighted Blankets?
Studies show that using a weighted blanket may relieve anxiety, reduce the symptoms of ADHD, contribute to better sleep, and more. Once a novel feature in therapeutic circles, the item is now mainstream because of its many reported benefits, which include:
- Reduced anxiety: In a study of 32 participants, 33 percent reported feeling less anxious while using a weighted blanket and 63 percent reported lower anxiety after using the blanket.
- Restful sleep: Research shows that weighted blankets may reduce insomnia in patients with anxiety and ADHD, contributing to higher daytime activity the next day and less anxiety.
- Decreased hyperactivity: In a study of weighted items and ADHD, participants completing a performance test were able to stay on task and fidgeted less while wearing a weighted vest.
- Relaxation during medical procedures: For those with anxiety, medical procedures can exacerbate feelings of unease, but weighted blankets may help. In one 2019 study of adolescents undergoing molar extraction, participants using weighted blankets felt less anxious.
How Do Weighted Blankets Affect Sleep?
According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, grounding the body during sleep, such as with a weighted blanket, helps to promote relaxation and reduce insomnia by synchronizing cortisol secretion with its natural, 24-hour circadian rhythms, especially in women. And as shown in the study mentioned above, for those with mood disorders, anxiety, and ADHD, weighted blankets were linked to more restful sleep and less fatigue the following day. Some people suffering from PTSD have also successfully used weighted blankets for night terrors and insomnia.
Are Weighted Blankets Safe for Children?
While weighted blankets are safe for teens and adults, some precautions should be taken with children. It’s generally recommended that the best weighted blankets for kids should equal no more than 10 percent of their body weight plus 1 to 2 pounds. Weighted blankets should not be used with infants, or those suffering from chronic health conditions, circulation issues, and temperature regulation issues. While there are many weighted blanket products on the market today, a DIY weighted blanket is an affordable option, even for the slightly crafty person.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles and a mother of one. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.