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Weighted blankets: How they work, and why you should get one

Could a heavy blanket be the answer to your stress, insomnia and anxiety?

harkal

A weighted blanket from the brand Harkla.

Harkla

By now, I am sure you've heard of weighted blankets. Last year, they rose to new heights of popularity, thanks in large part to the $4 million Kickstarter campaign for Gravity.

Weighted blankets are hardly new. Companies have been making them for decades and they've long been used to help soothe children with autism spectrum disorder

These days though, the list of conditions that weighted blankets (and other weighted products, like vests) purportedly help span from insomnia and restless leg syndrome to anxiety and ADHD.

Putting aside all of the hype, can weighted blankets help us all feel less stressed and sleep better? Read on to find out.

Read more: 7 signs you have burnout -- and how to fix it | How to make your own weighted blanked

What is a weighted blanket?

Weighted blankets are similar to a duvet or comforter, but filled with glass beads or plastic pellets instead of down or fiberfill -- though some weighted blankets have both fiberfill and weights.

Most weighted blankets have many compartments full of beads or pellets to provide even weight throughout. Some come with a washable cover to make them easy to clean.

Why do weighted blankets work?

What is is about lying under a heavy blanket that makes us feel less stressed and more relaxed? It's all about deep pressure touch (also called deep pressure stimulation).

Deep pressure touch can take many forms, including swaddling (for babies), massage, hugs and pressure evenly applied to your body. It's been shown to reduce cortisol, the hormone our bodies release when stressed, and increase dopamine, serotonin and melatonin hormones that promote relaxation, regulate our mood and signal our brains that it's time to sleep.

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It is also said to trigger our parasympathetic nervous system, which puts our body into a state of relaxation. It's the exact opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, where our bodies go into the "fight or flight" state.

Since most of us cannot get massages every day, and it's not practical to be swaddled as an adult (unless you're in Japan), a weighted blanket provides deep pressure touch anytime you want to relax.

They are celebrated as a medication-free way to manage stress and anxiety, but they are not a replacement for medication and other therapies prescribed by your doctor or other medical professional.

Can weighted blankets help with anxiety, PTSD or insomnia?

As weighted blankets grew in popularity, so did claims that they can help treat certain mental health conditions. However, weighted blankets generally fall under the FDA's guidelines for low-risk wellness devices, which means they should not claim to treat or cure any medical condition. They should only be marketed to support the well-being of someone living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.

gravity

The Gravity blanket

Gravity

That said, studies have shown that people who use weighted blankets report feeling less anxiety. One such study had participants use a 30-pound weighted blanket, and 68 percent reported feeling less anxious.

For anyone who struggles with easily falling asleep, or stay asleep, there is some evidence that a weighted blanket might help. One study showed that adults who slept with a weighted blanket spent more time asleep and didn't wake up as often when compared with sleeping with their usual bedding.

While there is little research that weighted blankets can help manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they've been used in hospital psychiatric departments as a tool to help calm patients with a variety of mental health conditions. 

Do I need a weighted blanket?

Given that weighted blankets are pricey, they are not an obvious purchase for everyone.

Whether or not you should get one largely depends on your bank account and what you hope to get out of using one. They can be a soothing tool for helping to manage stress and encourage restful sleep, but they are not the end-all, be-all.

Personally, I like my blanket and use it to relax after a stressful day. It's easy to fall asleep under it, but I almost always push it off in the middle of the night. Do I need it? No, but it is one of many helpful tools I use to manage anxiety and stress.Beads and fill

How to choose a weighted blanket

There are many, many weighted blankets out there, ranging from under $100 to well over $200. And, many of them look the same or share the same features. So how do you figure out which is right for you? This guide helps you choose the best weighted blanket for your needs.

Ready to shop? Check out the best weighted blankets for 2019. You can also make your own weighted blanket if you are handy with a sewing machine and want to save some money.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.