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Reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
The weighted blanket is increasingly a familiar and favored part of the lives of people who suffer from anxiety disorder or insomnia.
But while your friends and family may be self-swaddling to prevent sleep loss, we’re guessing you’re here because you’re a bit skeptical about weighted blankets and whether or not they work — and especially for anxiety.
Consider the basics: Anxiety is a mood disorder characterized by unease, stress and nervousness — so it makes sense that getting a little “blanket hug” could calm your senses.
But the truth about weighted blankets for anxiety, sadly, is complicated and incomplete. Weighted blankets are a new version of old technology, yet despite the familiarity (and comfort) of swaddling, there’s little scientific proof that it’s beneficial for treating a mood disorder.
Of course, there’s plenty of hope that weighted blankets can help you feel better. Let’s discover more about what they can do.
Weighted blankets are simply blankets made with weights inside them. They’ve been called gravity blankets and weighted chain blankets, and they can be designed in several ways. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to add weight on top of you while you rest.
Weighted blankets are primarily pitched as a form of something called “deep pressure stimulation.” Essentially, deep pressure stimulation is a calming sensation that most of us know from childhood — and typically, it’s presented as the benefit of a bear hug, or swaddling for a baby (or getting tucked into bed).
A weighted blanket is essentially a sensory tool that can help relieve distress (sort of like aromatherapy or occupying hands with dough or crafting).
It’s typically recommended that a weighted blanket for anxiety weigh approximately 10 percent of your total body weight, though there’s no indication on what that means for people who may want to share one with a partner.
Researchers say that weighted blankets can be effective for helping children who have an autism spectrum disorder, for instance, and who may need physical comfort during an episode.
Heavy blankets may be problematic for some people with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, however. It’s best to consult a healthcare professional if you suffer from any of these issues, and especially if you’re planning to use a weighted blanket for a child.
There’s not a lot of scientific evidence about the positive effects of weighted blankets at the moment, but there are some strong anecdotal indicators. For instance, one study from 2008 examined the effects of weighted (30-lb) blankets used by a sample group of 32 adults.
The researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, body temperature and pulse, and monitored anxiety before conducting an exit survey.
The study found that the weighted blanket was safe to use in a lying down position. Vital sign data showed no areas of concern, and 63 percent of the participants reported lower anxiety after use. What’s more, 78 percent preferred the weighted blanket for “calming” purposes.
There are some obvious questions from aforementioned data. For example, in addition to the relatively small sample size, it’s not abundantly clear whether or not the exit interviews accurately portrayed the weighted blanket’s effectiveness, as self-assessment isn’t always a reliable metric.
While further studies on weighted blanket use show similar beneficial results, they’re often limited to sample sizes of just a few dozen.
There are also questions about whether or not weighted blankets can give you more restful sleep or have any therapeutic effects on insomnia.
There were further findings to suggest that weighted blankets could have benefits for patients anxious about chemotherapy treatments. Researchers also found that the blankets may have therapeutic benefits for people experiencing chronic pain.
A systematic review from 2020 looked at the big picture — and the researchers found that weighted blankets offered limited benefits in limited settings, with limited populations. In other words, a weighted blanket can work for some individuals.
That’s hardly a rave review, but the good news for the weighted blanket crowd is that the main problem the systematic review acknowledged was that more research was needed. Evidence currently is sparse, yet the researchers did find some reasons to consider weighted blankets an appropriate therapeutic tool for anxiety, even though they stopped short of confirming any value.
Even though some folks love weighted blankets, there are those who might not. (For some, it might feel as enjoyable as a full-body version of a compression sock.) Either way, anxiety is treatable by many other means — and many of which are proven to be effective, not to mention easier to carry.
If you’re currently coping with anxiety, here’s the most important piece of advice we can give you: Don’t do it alone.
Anxiety disorders can be profoundly complicated, overwhelming conditions with a variety of side effects that go well beyond what we’ve mentioned here, and if your problem has started to affect your relationships, work or happiness, then the symptoms are frankly not something you can deal with alone.
Your best bet is to contact a healthcare professional and start asking questions. Telling a healthcare provider and getting anxiety treatment online to help your symptoms and reach goals for improvement is the first and best step.
Sure, those may include some heavy blanket time. A mental health professional might also (or instead) suggest therapy, medication or other lifestyle changes.
The jury (or at least, the scientific evidence) is out on whether or not a weighted blanket can help anxiety. However research has shown that anxiety disorders respond well to therapy. Any kind of therapy may help you get some perspective, but studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is among the most effective treatments for anxiety and other psychiatric and mood disorders.
Generally, antidepressants are also effective, and they’ve become one of the most commonly prescribed medications for treating anxiety.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of antidepressant, and considered the most effective. In fact, you will typically only be prescribed other medications if SSRIs are found to be ineffective.
If you’re feeling like you’re under pressure (from something besides the weighted blanket) then these options may be your best bets.
Whether you’re reading this from beneath a regular blanket, or in the arms of a loved one giving you a giant bear hug, it's important to understand that there's help outside of this space, too.
One bonus is that you don’t have to come out from under your blanket to get it.
Start your mental wellness journey today.