Anecdotally, weighted blankets sound like a cure-all, from anxiety reduction and deeper sleep to recovery. There's even some pretty solid research to back up many of these claims. Here, learn about five reasons people are getting cozy with weighted blankets:
A weighted blanket may promote deeper sleep.
As something that's used during sleep, weighted blankets are best known for promoting sleep to begin with. And according to Brittany Ferri, OTR/L, CCTP, occupational therapist and founder of Simplicity of Health, LLC, this perk is due to a type of sensory input called proprioception. Proprioception "helps us comprehend how our body interacts with its environment," she says. It also involves signals from sensory neurons in the skin, muscles, and joints that inform the body's movement.
The pressure of weighted blankets provides this sensory input. "The information allows a person's brain to stop doing extra work to determine the body's location," explains Ferri. "Once the brain is no longer devoting energy to this task, it can focus on other vital functions—including sleep."
The sleep-related benefits of weighted blankets were observed in a 2015 study. For two weeks straight, 31 adults with chronic insomnia slept with weighted blankets. The participants said they had an easier time falling asleep, along with better sleep quality.
It might reduce anxiety levels.
If your self-care routine needs a pick-me-up, consider adding a weighted blanket to your lineup. According to Stephanie Wijkstrom, M.S., LPC, NBCC, psychotherapist and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, the physical pressure prompts the release of oxytocin and serotonin, which have a highly calming effect. In fact, it's similar to the way deep pressure during a massage induces relaxation. A study also found that deep pressure choreographs the autonomic nervous system in a way that improves the stress response.
And though more research is necessary, it's also thought weighted blankets decrease anxiety by promoting better rest. Deep sleep, after all, calms the regions of the brain responsible for anxiety. Adequate sleep also strengthens our fear response to potentially taxing situations, which helps us handle life's stressors with ease.
To enjoy the calming benefits of a weighted blanket, it's recommended to use one that's more than 10% of your body weight. The blanket should also be evenly distributed over your entire body to apply constant, uniform pressure.
It could be a therapeutic tool for kids with autism.
While weighted blankets have turned into a wellness trend, their history has roots in occupational therapy. Traditionally, they're used to help kids with autism feel calmer. "Children with autism typically demonstrate mild to severe sensory regulation concerns," explains Ferri. As a result, their proprioception may be dysregulated. "Weighted blankets provide [them] with the information their bodies need, which regulate their behaviors and improve their ability to function in daily activities."
Wijkstrom compares the effect to how a baby feels in a wrapped blanket. Like "a newborn nestled in their snugly fitted blanket, anxious children can be calmed by the deep pressure," she notes. "The neural pathways [are] attenuated to the somatic stimulation and override the sensation of anxiety." Additionally, weighted blankets may improve sleep quality in children with autism, including the time it takes to fall asleep and how often they wake up at night.
It might help you sleep on your back.
For most people, the healthiest sleep position is on your back. Not only does it help prevent acid reflux, but it minimizes the risk of pain and aches. That's because it keeps your spine, neck, and head neutral—which eliminates excess pressure. And according to anecdotal claims, using a weighted blanket could make it easier to sleep in this position. The idea is that if you start the night on your back, the pressure of a weighted blanket helps you maintain the posture by limiting movement.
Sleeping on your back may also ward off certain types of wrinkles. Yes, really! Here's the thing: When you sleep on your side or stomach, your face is inevitably smooshed against the pillow. The compression pulls and stretches your skin, increasing the risk of sleep wrinkles. (These are different from expression wrinkles, like smile lines or folds in your forehead.) But by sleeping on your back—with the potential help of a weighted blanket—you might be able to keep those sleep wrinkles at bay.
Some say it aids muscle recovery.
The perks of weighted blankets may also extend to muscle recovery. However, this benefit is purely theoretical, as it stems from the blanket's effect on sleep. As Ferri notes, our muscles need rest in order to recover after a major workout, race, or illness. "Sleep also helps our bodies absorb the water that we took in during the day, which is used to power our cells for continued recovery," she adds.
There isn't any specific research linking weighted blankets to muscle repair, though. This hypothetical (and anecdotal) benefit is related to the deep sleep one might get from using a weighted blanket. Even then, snoozing with a weighted blanket doesn't replace proper hydration and nutrition. When used in combination with other smart post-workout habits, the trendy sleep aid could simply lend a hand.
The bottom line:
Like all tools in the wellness space, weighted blankets aren't for everyone. Some might find them to be uncomfortable, difficult to store, or costly. But if you're searching for ways to cope with sleep or anxiety—or if your little one has autism—investing in one might be worth considering.
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Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.