Weighted Blankets Help Us Sleep an Extra 13+ Minutes

Written by

Zara Abrams , Contributing Writer
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At a Glance:

  • People who used a weighted blanket in the past year sleep 13 minutes longer than those who did not, according to a survey.
  • Weighted-blanket users say they sleep an average of 32 minutes longer than normal when using the blanket.
  • 41% of adult survey respondents say they’ve used a weighted blanket in the past year.
  • 85% of people who sleep longer when using a weighted blanket notice a change in their sleep in just a few days.
  • 75.5% of weighted-blanket users would recommend one to friends and family.

Weighted blankets were on the packing list for Jo Van’s 55-hour car trip. And they were a game-changer.

The 73-year-old was traveling with three of her grandkids who have autism or ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which can cause restlessness. The children, ages 5 to 12, were relaxed and slept for much of the trip.

“I realized the potential of these blankets when I saw first-hand the difference in kids confined to the car for long hours,” Van says.

Van is such a believer that she now makes weighted blankets and sells them online. Her customers buy them to help lower anxiety and cope with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

They also may help us sleep better.

Using a weighted blanket is worth at least 13 extra minutes of sleep each night, according to the reported sleep habits of people who used one in the past year versus those who did not in a Sleep Doctor survey of 1,250 adults in December 2022.

The 41% of respondents who used a weighted blanket gained an average of 32 minutes each night when using one. They also reported that weighted blankets helped them relax, reduced pain, and improved their sleep quality. One-third of folks even reported not being able to sleep without one.

How Much Do Weighted Blankets Help Us Sleep?

So what is it about weighted blankets that is helping some of us sleep?

What Are the Benefits of Weighted Blankets?

“The gentle pressure of a weighted blanket [on your body] can help to reduce stress and anxiety, leading to a calmer and more relaxed state,” says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.

Here’s how weighted blankets work. The weight in them often comes from plastic pellets or dense organic material used as fill to make them heavier than a standard blanket. They weigh anywhere from 5 to 35 pounds, with 12 pounds being a potential sweet spot for adults. 

Weighted blankets can create a feeling of being swaddled or held in a firm hug, a sensation called deep pressure stimulation that quiets the nervous system by stimulating nerve endings just beneath our skin. Studies have linked deep pressure stimulation to changes in the body that promote relaxation. It can lower cortisol, the hormone that makes it hard to unwind. It also can increase serotonin, which can influence how long and how well you sleep. 

In turn, studies have shown that these blankets ease stress and lower anxiety. In one study, 63% of adults who used a weighted blanket reported feeling less anxious after use.

That’s true among our survey respondents, as well. Of those who have used a weighted blanket in the past year, 70.8% say it helps them relax, while 58.2% say it improves their sleep quality. 

These two things are often linked, says Dr. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., of The Sleep Doctor. And they may help us fall asleep quicker.

“I’ve found weighted blankets more useful for people who have trouble falling asleep than for those who have trouble staying asleep,” he says.

Among weighted-blanket users, 52.4% say they fall asleep within 20 minutes when using their blanket, compared to 40.8% of people who have not used one. Typical sleep-onset latency is 20 minutes.

“A weighted blanket allows us to lower our radar and surveillance because we know we’re in a safe, calm environment,” Dr. Breus says.

Who Is Using Weighted Blankets?

Of all survey respondents, 61.9% who use weighted blankets were 18 to 34 years old, and 57% identify as women.

The benefits of a weighted blanket may be pronounced for people with insomnia and autism, Dr. Dimitriu says. The blankets also could help people with restless legs syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other chronic pain conditions.

Survey respondents who used weighted blankets were more likely to have insomnia (33.6%) than those who did not use the blankets (17.4%).

Parents are also turning to weighted blankets. Studies have shown that weighted blankets can improve sleep and reduce stress in children who have ADHD or autism, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and other conditions. They may also be helpful for people living with dementia.

“A weighted blanket allows us to lower our radar and surveillance because we know we’re in a safe, calm environment.” — Dr. Michael J. Breus, The Sleep Doctor

One of Van’s customers is Shanda Cayen, a 28-year-old developmental service worker. She says weighted blankets have made a big difference for her family. They help with sleep and relaxation for her two sons, ages 6 and 8, who both have anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and conduct disorder, which involves behavioral and emotional outbursts.

“We use them to de-escalate tantrums and sensory overload, sometimes up to six times a day,” she says.

How to Sleep With a Weighted Blanket

So should you try one? Users say so: 75.5% of people who have used a weighted blanket in the past year say they would recommend one to family and friends.

Weighted Blankets: What to Consider

If you want to buy a weighted blanket, it should not exceed 10% of your body weight, Dr. Breus says. He suggests sleeping with the blanket over your torso and arms for the first two to three nights, then trying covering your legs.

Among people who say they sleep longer when using a weighted blanket, 85% noticed a change within a few days of use, and 39.6% say the change was instant. 

When Van first used a weighted blanket, for example, her sleep improved right away.

 “The weight of the blanket makes you feel secure and snug,” she says. “I find that while using my weighted blanket at night in bed, I go into a much deeper sleep and wake up feeling rested.”

While Van, and many of her customers, use weighted blankets year-round, some people avoid them during the summer. That’s because most people sleep best in a cool environment, between 66 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some 25.7% of surveyed blanket users only use their weighted blanket seasonally, while 26.5% use the blanket every night.

But not everyone will benefit from using one, Dr. Breus says. Weighted blankets are not recommended for people with a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. He also advises that weighted blankets aren’t recommended for infants, young children, or pets because of suffocation risks. In late 2022, Target recalled 204,000 weighted blankets for child-safety reasons. 

“I’ve found weighted blankets more useful for people who have trouble falling asleep than for those who have trouble staying asleep.” — Dr. Michael J. Breus, The Sleep Doctor

Among survey respondents who don’t use weighted blankets, the top reason is that they sleep well with their current bedding (25%). But for the 17.2% who don’t use them because they’re too expensive, there may still be a way to experience the benefits of deep pressure stimulation.

“For people who cannot afford a weighted blanket, it may be worth a try using a heavier blanket, or getting ‘tucked in,’ to have the swaddling experience,” Dr. Dimitriu says.

Methodology

The survey commissioned by The Sleep Doctor was conducted on the online survey platform Pollfish on Dec. 16, 2022. Results are from 1,250 survey participants in the United States who were ages 18 and older at the time of the survey and indicated that they regularly sleep in a bed. All respondents attested to answering the survey questions truthfully and accurately.

References

  1. Besbier, L., & William, T. I. (2017). The Immediate Effects of Deep Pressure on Young People with Autism and Severe Intellectual Difficulties: Demonstrating Individual Differences. Occupational Therapy International, Article 7534972. Retrieved Jan. 11, 2023 from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/oti/2017/7534972/ 
  2. Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2005). Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. The International journal of neuroscience, 115(10), 1397–1413. Retrieved Jan. 6, 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16162447/  
  3. Eron, K., Kohnert, L., Watters, A., Logan, C., Weisner-Rose, M., & Mehler, P. S. (2020). Weighted Blanket Use: A Systematic Review. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(2), 1-14. Retrieved Jan. 6, 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32204779/ 
  4. Mullen, B., Champagne, T., Krishnamurty, S., Dickson, D., & Gao, R. X. (2006). Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 24(1), 65-89. Retrieved Jan. 6, 2023 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J004v24n01_05 
  5. Zolovska, B., & Shatkin, J. (2013). Key Differences in Pediatric versus Adult Sleep. Encyclopedia of Sleep, 573–578. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123786104004964 
  6. Baric, V. B., Skuthälla, S., Pettersson, M., Gustafsson, P. A., & Kjellberg, A. (2021). The effectiveness of weighted blankets on sleep and everyday activities – A retrospective follow-up study of children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or autism spectrum disorder. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Advance online publication. Retrieved Jan. 6, 2023 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/11038128.2021.1939414  
  7. Ekholm. B., Spulber, S., & Adler, M. (2020). A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 16(9), 1567-1577. Retrieved Jan. 6, 2023 from https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.8636 
  8. Harris, M. L., & Titler, M. G. (2022). Feasibility and Acceptability of a Remotely Delivered Weighted Blanket Intervention for People Living With Dementia and Their Family Caregivers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 41(11), 2316-2328. Retrieved Jan. 6 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35750505/  
  9. Target Recalls Children’s Pillowfort Weighted Blankets Due to Asphyxiation Hazard; Two Fatalities Reported. (n.d.). U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2023, from https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2023/Target-Recalls-Childrens-Pillowfort-Weighted-Blankets-Due-to-Asphyxiation-Hazard-Two-Fatalities-Reported

About The Author

Zara Abrams

Contributing Writer

Zara is a science writer who specializes in psychology, neuroscience, and health. She has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science journalism, both from the University of Southern California.

  • Position: Stomach Sleeper
  • Temperature: Hot Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Bear

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