There's something about a weighted blanket that just feels… right. And cozy! If you've ever spent a night cocooned in one, you know what we're talking about. What is it about weighted blankets that makes them so darn comforting? Let’s explore the science behind why weighted blankets are so effective in providing relief and relaxation.
A weighted blanket is a type of blanket that is filled with materials that add weight, typically, such as glass beads, sand, rice, buckwheat hulls, or millet. The weight of the blanket should be evenly distributed throughout. Weighted blankets are also sometimes referred to as gravity blankets or deep-pressure touch therapy blankets.
Weighted blankets can provide a number of benefits. They can be used to help relieve anxiety, stress, and tension. They can also help improve sleep quality. Weighted blankets are also sometimes used to help ease symptoms of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Does a Weighted Blanket Work?
The theory behind how weighted blankets work is that they essentially provide touch therapy. Deep pressure touch therapy is a form of therapeutic touch. Therapeutic touch is a type of alternative medicine that uses the practitioner’s hands to direct energy to the patient in order to promote healing.
The deep pressure created by the weighted blanket is thought to stimulate the release of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in happiness and relaxation. The release of serotonin has also been linked to improved sleep quality.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Are you someone who jumps quickly on supplement trends and has a cupboard of barely-used protocols and herb tinctures just sitting and collecting dust? The best part about weighted blankets is that you buy them one time and can enjoy their benefits forever. Not only do most people report clinical improvements (like with mood and anxiety), but there is also much research-based evidence to support weighted blankets as a safe, non-invasive addition to your wellness routine.
- Reduces stress and anxiety
One of the most common reasons people use weighted blankets is to reduce stress and anxiety. And there's a good reason for this—several studies have shown that weighted blankets can help decrease anxiety levels.
How do weighted blankets work to reduce stress and anxiety? It all has to do with something called "deep pressure touch stimulation." Deep pressure touch stimulation refers to the physical feeling created by the added weight of the blanket, the same type that occurs with a firm hug. Deep pressure touch stimulation of any kind has a calming effect on the nervous system, which leads to reduced stress and anxiety levels.
- Improves sleep quality
If you struggle with insomnia or other sleep disorders, then a weighted blanket may be able to help. Weighted blankets can improve sleep quality by reducing tossing and turning at night and also help patients fall asleep faster. One study in the The International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being interviewed nursing staff about how residents clinically responded to the non-pharmacological “treatment” of weighted blankets and they reported more activity, better sleep, and more energy.
In another study, participants who used a weighted blanket reported feeling less restless at night and falling asleep faster than those who didn't use a weighted blanket (5). Another study found that participants who used a weighted blanket slept an average of nearly one hour longer per night than those who didn't use a weighted blanket (6). So if you're looking for a way to improve your sleep quality, a weighted blanket may be worth considering.
- Eases symptoms of ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that can cause symptoms like difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Some research suggests that weighted blankets may help ease symptoms of ADHD in children and adults (7).
One study found that participants who used a weighted vest during the day had significantly lower ratings of hyperactivity than those who didn't use a vest (8). Another study found that when children with ADHD wore weighted vests during class, had fewer attention problems than when they didn't wear the vests (9). These studies suggest that weighted products may help ease symptoms of ADHD.
- Relieves pain
If you suffer from chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia or arthritis, then you know how debilitating pain can be. Fortunately, research shows that weighted products can help relieve pain (10, 11). The pressure of the blanket can help ease muscle pain and joint stiffness, making it easier to get comfortable and fall asleep. Weighted products work to relieve pain by providing deep pressure touch stimulation. This deep pressure touch stimulation activates nerve endings in the skin, which sends messages to the brain that block out pain signals (12). As a result, using a weighted blanket can help lessen your pain and making it more manageable.
- Boosts mood
One study found that medical professionals reported the use of weighted blankets can increase serotonin levels, a hormone that's linked to happiness and well-being.
Participants who used weighted blankets had lessened symptoms of depression, anxiety, and hostility, than those who didn't use weighted blankets.
- May ease symptoms of autism spectrum disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that's characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors. Some studies have found that weighted blankets can help ease symptoms of ASD, including anxiety and hyperactivity .
- Calms the nervous system
The deep pressure provided by the weight of the blanket has a calming effect on the nervous system. This type of deep pressure stimulation has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety levels, while promoting relaxation.
A study found that a weighted blanket improved vital metrics (like pulse oximetry, pulse rate, and blood pressure) by 33% and 63% lower anxiety.
In fact, weighted blankets are even used during MRI scans to calm the system and decrease movement, especially for children. Another study found that use of a weighted blanket resulted in significant reductions in anxiety levels in people with generalized anxiety disorder.
One study found that using a weighted blanket reduced anxiety in 63% of participants. Weighted blankets have also been shown to lower cortisol levels, which is a hormone that's released in response to stress. Weighted blankets with additional therapies like grounding and earthing techniques can have a similar effect if deployed during sleep.
- Increases calmness and focus
A study published in 2021 found that use of a weighted blanket led to increased levels of calmness and focus in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The children who used the weighted blanket also showed decreases in restlessness and fidgeting during class. Parents report improved quality of life.
Lessen disruptive behaviors during the day
A study published in Pediatrics found that children with autism who used weighted vests during the day exhibited fewer disruptive behaviors than those who did not use the vests. It is thought that the deep pressure provided by the vest helps to calm and focus the child, leading to less disruption during activities such as school or therapy sessions. These same findings can be attributed to weighted blankets as well!
Ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A study published in Anxiety, Stress, & Coping found that participants with PTSD who used a weighted vest during therapy sessions had lower levels of anxiety and intrusive thoughts than those who did not use the vest. The vest was found to be most helpful when worn during sessions that were particularly anxiety-provoking for the participants. Weighted blankets are also used in distressing Emergency Room settings with success.
- Reduce settings where high amounts of sensory input are present
An article published by Autism Speaks cites several studies that have shown positive effects of using weighted products in settings where there is a high amount of sensory input, such as classrooms or crowded areas like festivals or amusement parks. The deep pressure provided by the weight helps autistic individuals feel more grounded and less overwhelmed by their surroundings. This can lead to improved behavior and decreased meltdowns or tantrums.