By Emma Stessman
Sometimes it’s so hard to fall asleep, you’ll try anything…even a “weighted blanket.”
You know those days when you spend hours looking forward to the moment when your head hits the pillow? Then, when you’re finally cozied up in bed, you can’t stop thinking about work?
Whatever the reason, many people have a really hard time falling (and staying) asleep. That’s why there’s a $70 billion industry (!) dedicated to products and supplements that supposedly help. But with so many options available, it can be hard to tell the difference between those that will take you to dreamland and those that are simply a money-sucking nightmare.
So where do weighted blankets come in? Lately, an influx of companies have been advertising these heavy covers as a way to relieve nighttime stress and cure insomnia. Some of them cost upwards of $150—more than your average essential oil diffuser or bottle of melatonin.
To see if they’re really worth the investment, we turned to the latest scientific research and a couple of sleep pros, to get all the heavy details.
Do Weighted Blankets Work?
The idea is that consistent pressure may reduce physical arousal, like active signs of stress and anxiety, and promote a more relaxed state, explains Martin Reed, CCSH, a certified clinical sleep health educator and the founder of Insomnia Coach. This should make it easier for you to fall asleep. The blanket can mimic the effects of deep pressure touch, a therapy method that often uses hugging or squeezing to calm someone down. It’s most commonly used for children with autism or ADHD but is also thought to be beneficial for anxiety, as it may promote the release of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.
That’s the theory, but there’s not a ton of research to support the use of weighted blankets. One of the most promising studies on the topic is a small one, published in 2015 in Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. While the tested group had only 31 people (all of whom suffered from chronic insomnia), researchers found that those who used a weighted blanket slept longer and had fewer waking periods throughout the night.
The problem is, weighted blankets are often made with plastic pellets or glass beads, and all that extra weight can make things hot. “The body’s ability to cool off naturally at night allows us to enter deeper, more refreshing sleep,” says Alex Dimitriu, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. A heavy blanket can easily interrupt that, he says. To counter those effects, you should maintain a cool room temperature and choose a blanket with a breathable material. Companies like Gravity and Luxome offer “cooling” blankets, made with moisture-wicking and thermal-controlled materials to help things stay at a sleep-worthy temp.
Another thing: Your blanket should weigh around ten percent of your body weight, Reed says. It should feel like a soft hug, not like you’re being suffocated. For example, if you weigh around 150 pounds, you should look for a blanket that’s 15 (like this one from Baloo). Most companies offer a variety of weights, with five pounds often being the lightest (perfect for kids) and 30 pounds being the heaviest.
Overall, there is some evidence, both anecdotal and research-based to support weighted blankets’ sleep-inducing benefits, particularly if your restlessness tends to be stress-related.
However, if you’re someone with chronic insomnia, using them is more like putting a Band-Aid, err blanket, on a broken leg. “Weighted blankets don’t really address the perpetuating factors that fuel chronic insomnia, so they are unlikely to improve sleep if you have been living with it for a long period of time,” Reed says.