Anxiety doesn’t usually fall under the “trendy” category. But recently, celebrities and social media stars have been opening up about anxiety through the lens of weighted blankets, which (based on their popularity) have officially achieved “hip” status.
To hear these influencers tell it, getting cozy under a weighted blanket provides effective, comforting anxiety relief (and may offer better sleep in the process). But influencers are often the same people who tell us we can get slim merely by drinking laxative teas, so it’s probably smart not to take their word for it.
Do the claims about weighted blankets hold up in the court of scientific research, or are they just the next exaggerated sleep trend? Read on to find out.
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Depending on who you talk to, weighted blankets are either an occupational therapy tool for people dealing with sensory processing issues or a major sleep trend perpetuated by the likes of Kourtney Kardashian and the many brands that are crowding into the weighted blanket space.
In fact, both are true. Weighted blankets have been employed by occupational therapists and special education teachers for decades as a means of helping patients or students with sensory processing issues (such as autism or post-traumatic stress disorder) feel calmer. More recently, they’ve become popular as a potential sleep aid for people grappling with insomnia (particularly insomnia brought on by anxiety).
As the name implies, these blankets are weighted—a feature that’s achieved by filling an internal liner with material such as glass beads or plastic pellets. Weights can vary, but most blankets are somewhere in the range of 10 to 25 pounds. The material used on the exterior of the blankets also varies; common options include cotton, flannel, and fleece.
To hear weighted blanket manufacturers tell it, these heavy comforters really can provide some serious comfort. Let’s dive deeper into the science behind weighted blankets and anxiety relief.
Science Says: Weighted Blankets and Anxiety
More research is needed to fully understand whether and how weighted blankets are effective at treating anxiety, but results so far are promising. (The question of whether weighted blankets can help with sleep remains a source of more heated debate.)
Researchers believe weighted blankets may help ease anxiety because of a phenomenon called Deep-Touch Pressure (aka Deep Pressure Touch), which is akin to the touch you might feel if you were being tightly hugged or swaddled. The idea is that this kind of pressure stimulates the release of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin, thereby soothing the nervous system and promoting greater feelings of calm. Indeed, one study (which was conducted in a dental environment) observed that Deep Touch Pressure can produce physiological shifts in people’s nervous systems and effectively reduce anxiety.
While studies into the anxiety-relieving benefits of weighted blankets have generally been small and/or lacked a control group, here’s what researchers have discovered so far about the potential uses of weighted blankets:
- One study, which looked at the use of a 30-pound weighted blanket among 32 adults, found that 63 percent of participants reported lower anxiety and 78 percent liked employing the weighted blanket as a means of calming down.
- A pilot study, which looked at the use of a 30-pound weighted blanket among 30 adults who were hospitalized for inpatient mental health treatment, found that 60 percent of participants experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety.
- A 2016 study found that wearing a weighted blanket during a stressful experience (e.g. wisdom tooth extraction) may lower stress levels.
These studies also suggested that weighted blankets seem safe for use. That’s significant, because so far the data doesn’t guarantee that weighted blankets will soothe anxiety—but it does suggest that it may be safe for most people to try weighted blankets as a potential calming agent. (A few possible exceptions? People with respiratory issues, chronic medical conditions, sleep apnea or other sleep disorders should consult a doctor prior to giving one of these blankets a try. Same goes for children and the elderly.)
It’s also important to note that weighted blankets aren’t a cure for anything that ails you. If you regularly struggle with anxiety, it’s important to seek out the help of a therapist or medical professional. But if you’re looking to feel snug as a bug in a rug (er, blanket) and possibly enjoy a mood boost in the process, then a weighted blanket may give you the occasional anxiety relief you’re looking for.