Do Weighted Blankets Work For Insomnia?

Why use a weighted blanket

Weighted blankets are typically filled with plastic poly-pellets (think Beanie Babies, that late-1990s toy craze), weighing anywhere from two to 24 pounds. The way the blanket cocoons the body is a form of deep pressure therapy (DPT) — firm squeezing, stroking, swaddling, and massage that calms the nervous system and reduces high arousal levels in adults and children.

The pressure stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — the part of the body responsible for turning off your stress response, making you feel peaceful and relaxed.

“Constricting movement through swaddling and hugging creates a sensory input to the cerebellum that has a calming effect in humans and most animals, and in some, the effect is nearly immediate,” says W. Chris Winter, M.D., president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of “The Sleep Solution.”

Research in Adults with Insomnia

Perhaps the best evidence to date comes from a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. This study included 31 adults with chronic insomnia. Their sleep was tracked for one week with their usual bedding, then two weeks with a weighted blanket, and then one more week with their usual bedding again.

Four out of five study participants said they liked the weighted blanket. Those in this group slept longer and spent less time awake in the middle of the night while using the weighted blanket, sleep testing showed. Study participants also said they found it easier to settle down to sleep with the weighted blanket. Plus, they reported getting better sleep and feeling more refreshed the next morning.

The theory behind weighted blankets is that they may work, in part, by providing firm, deep pressure stimulation. “The pressure provides a reassuring and cocooning feeling,” says study coauthor Gaby Badre, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Gothenburg and medical director of the sleep disorders clinic (SDS Kliniken) in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In addition, Badre says that the weighting material inside the blanket produces a lighter, stroking-like tactile sensation when you move. “This tactile stimulation, amplified by movements, even if small, may be the equivalent of a caress,” says Badre. It may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and affect nervous system activity in ways that decrease overarousal and anxiety.

Weighted blankets and sleep

Heres Why Your Friends Are Sleeping With Weighted Blankets_Weighted blankets and sleep

For years, children with developmental disorders — particularly autism — have used weighted blankets to sleep more soundly. However, research is thin on whether they actually work. In a 2014 study, a weighted blanket didn’t help autistic children fall asleep faster, wake less often, or sleep longer. However, the children and their parents said they preferred the weighted blanket over the normal one.[3]

There’s some evidence that weighted blankets could help adults with insomnia. A 2015 study from Sweden found that people with moderate insomnia slept longer and moved less when using a weighted blanket.[4] But take the results with a pinch of salt — the study involved just 32 participants and there was no control group. Somna AB, a Swedish manufacturer of weighted blankets, also underwrote the report.

Are weighted blankets safe?

Weighted blankets are generally safe to use — though they should be kept off of the face and neck while you’re sleeping. According to the Massachusetts-Amherst study, weighted blankets did not have a discernible effect on the participants’ vital signs, including oxygen levels in the blood, pulse rate, and blood pressure.

It’s best to keep weighted blankets away from children under three, or anyone weighing less than 50 pounds, since they pose a suffocation hazard. Young children could also choke on the plastic poly-pellets, in the event that a blanket is torn or damaged.

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