Thanks to high stress levels and a brain that wouldn’t shut off, I was in search of a way to get a better night’s rest (without having to resort to drugs). I’m a serial tosser-and-turner, and it’s often difficult for me to fall — and stay — asleep because I’m constantly thinking about what I have to tackle on my to-do list the next day. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves me feeling completely drained in the morning.
I had been seeing weighted blankets pop up in my social feeds over the past couple of weeks, so I decided to give the trend a try. Weighted blankets are seeing a surge in popularity lately, with many proponents saying they have stress-, anxiety- and insomnia-relieving effects. The hype is palpable: Gravity Blanket racked up more than $4 million on its Kickstarter campaign in 2017, and according to Pinterest, saves for weighted blankets are up a whopping 259 percent these days.
So with a 15-pound weighted blanket from Rocabi in hand (which is the size the brand recommends for people who are between 100-150 pounds) I got into bed, hopeful but nervous. I was worried that the blanket would be restrictive and too hot (disrupting my already patchy sleep), but I was able to turn onto my side pretty easily, and it didn’t cause me to overheat. (Now, I probably won’t use a weighted blanket on 90-degree nights, but it was totally fine on a 70-degree night.)
Because I couldn’t physically move as much, I noticed that my thoughts weren’t racing as much either.
When I slipped under the blanket, I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon, as if the blanket were hugging me. (That feeling of being hugged is what Irina Zhdanova, MD, PhD, CEO of ClockCoach, told me was likely responsible for any calming effects.) Although it was possible for me to shift onto my side, the blanket was definitely more snug than my regular comforter, and I felt like it encouraged my body to stay still. Normally, I’m pretty restless in bed, and the act of moving around makes my mind wander. But, because I couldn’t physically move as much, I noticed that my thoughts weren’t racing as much either. I was able to just focus on the present, and that made it easier to fall asleep. I didn’t wake up once in the middle of the night, which is very rare for me and after 7 hours of solid sleep, I felt so refreshed that I didn’t even need to stop for my iced coffee on the way to office.
But is there really any concrete evidence to support my seemingly better sleep experience? Or was it all in my head?
What are weighted blankets — and how do they work?
Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like — they’re heavy blankets (typically 15 pounds or more) filled with a material such as plastic pellets. The theory is that the deep pressure you feel from being under all of that weight has a calming effect.
The deep pressure of the blanket makes you feel like you’re being hugged or swaddled, says Zhdanova. “Being hugged is a very powerful stimulus,” she says. “When you’re hugged, you feel more secure.” Plus, weighted blankets offer mild restraint, says Zhdanova — they make it harder for you to move and thus harder for you to disturb yourself while you sleep.
For a study published in the “Journal of the Formosan Medical Association,” participants undergoing wisdom tooth removal (which the researchers identified as one of the most stressful medical procedures) wore weighted blankets during their surgeries. Under the weighted blankets, the patients showed more activity in the part of the nervous system that is in control during times of low stress.
One of the most popular uses for weighted blankets is for treating children with disorders like autism and ADHD. “It’s absolutely true that some kids benefit from compression, either from weighted blankets or stretchy Lycra sleeping bags [which also provide deep pressure],” says Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, board-certified sleep psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. A study published in “The American Journal of Occupational Therapy” found that elementary school aged students who wore weighted vests paid attention more and fidgeted less in class.
That being said, there are a few cons to weighted blankets, especially when it comes to having kids use them. They’re heavy, which makes them hard to travel with, they get hot, and it can prove difficult for children to use them on their own without parents there. “When parents ask me about weighted blankets, I ask if their child can put it on, arrange it and tuck themselves in,” says Dr. Schneeberg. She prefers Lycra sleeping bags for children because they’re lighter, more portable and easier to use.
How to pick the right weighted blanket for you
If you are going to try a weighted a blanket, keep in mind that they can get pricey. A 20-pound Gravity Blanket, for example, costs $249. (If you’re crafty, Schneeberg says you can DIY your own version — here’s a DIY weighted blanket tutorial.)
Committed to shelling out some cash? Zhdanova recommends sticking with a weighted blanket on the lighter side. Most experts advise choosing one that’s roughly 10 percent of your body weight — so if you’re 150 pounds, you should buy a 15-pound blanket. Zhdanova notes that you shouldn’t use a weighted blanket if you snore or have sleep apnea, because anything that is placed on your chest can disrupt your breathing even further.
But if stress, a mile-long to-do list and funneling caffeine to get through the day is the battle you're fighting, a weighted blanket may just help you put those sleepless nights behind you.
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