Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
“You’ll never believe what happened last night,” I told my husband many years ago. “I went to bed and didn’t wake up until 8 a.m.”
“You mean you slept like a normal person?” he joked.
Most people go to bed and wake up eight hours later? I wondered. I typically wake up around 10 times a night — more than once an hour.
It’s common for middle-aged and older adults to wake up two or three times a night. But Fitbit found that their users wake up over nine times a night on average, which could be indicative of America’s sleep problems.
Ever since realizing that waking up 10 times a night isn’t normal — or healthy — I’ve been on a journey to become a better sleeper.
My difficulty sleeping stems from having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
There’s a lot of scientific evidence showing that anxiety and sleep are closely connected. I often sleep better on days when my anxiety is at bay. When I’m ruminating on something, or several things, I tend to wake up more often or it takes longer to get back to sleep.
Sleep problems can also cause anxiety, too. For me, a bad night’s sleep exacerbates my anxiety.
Fixing my sleep problems isn’t only important for myself, but also for my marriage. Because I’m a restless sleeper and my husband constantly moves at night, we often have difficulty sharing our queen-size bed.
I’ve tried everything in the book to get more restful sleep: a white noise machine, Xanax, earplugs, and therapy. The white noise machine occasionally rattles and is difficult to travel with. The Xanax leaves me feeling groggy when I wake up the next day. The earplugs are uncomfortable. Therapy has helped me manage my anxiety, but it serves as more of a long-term strategy than a daily tool.
A month ago, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t tried yet: a weighted gravity blanket. I read about their magical ability to calm anxious people so that they’re able to get a deep, restful night’s sleep.
Would this finally be the cure to my sleep problems?
The science supporting gravity blankets
Weighted blankets create deep pressure touch, which is thought to help calm the nervous system of people in states of sensory arousal. This is the theory behind why some children with autism may respond to the use of weighted blankets or vests during moments of sensory overload.
The calming benefits of weighted blankets are supported by some research, too. One small study tested the effectiveness of weighted blankets in adults in 2006. The results were staggering: 63 percent reported lower anxiety after use, and 78 percent found the weighted blanket an effective calming mechanism.
However, the small size of these studies and the nature of their design has some sleep experts calling for more studies to scientifically validate claims that gravity blankets can help with anxiety and sleep.
Ready for the weight. But how much?
According to the weighted blanket company, Mosaic, people should choose a blanket that’s about 10 percent (or slightly more) of their body weight. But gravity blankets more commonly come in a handful of specific weights: 10 pounds, 12 pounds, 15 pounds, and 20 pounds, among others.
For example, a 12-pound weighted blanket may be ideal for someone who weighs 120 pounds, a 15-pound one for someone who weighs 150 pounds, and a 20-pound one for someone who weighs 200 pounds.
I weigh 135 pounds, so I opted for this 15-pound weighted blanket that was 4 feet wide by 6 feet long, since I’m 5’7”. (They sell longer options for taller people.)
I also discovered that these blankets are quite expensive, and the price only increases with the weight of the blanket. Most 15-pound blankets I saw online — including mine — were around $120.
How to buy the right gravity blanket for you
- Weight: Approximately 10 percent of your body weight. If you’re between two sizes, try the heavier weight.
- Size: As large or slightly larger than you. That way, if you toss and turn, you’ll still be under the blanket.
- Price: $100-$249 based on weight, size, and brand (Gravity and BlanQuil are popular).
Getting used to sleeping with the weighted blanket wasn’t easy
My husband picked up the package from our apartment’s leasing office and called me. “What in the world did you order from Amazon? This package weighs a ton!”
Once he dropped it off, I eagerly unwrapped the package to find my light grey, quilted blanket.
Though the blanket was only 15 pounds, it felt insanely heavy the first time I took it out of the box. I could barely lift it.
Though my puny biceps can’t lift much weight, I can definitely lift 15 pounds in a more compact form. The distribution of weight makes the blanket very difficult to carry unless it’s rolled into a ball.
On the first night of my experiment, I laid down in bed and struggled to arrange the blanket on top of me because it was so heavy.
I ended up asking my husband to position the blanket so that everything from my neck to my toes was covered.
He then put my favorite floral comforter on top of the weighted blanket, as it wasn’t wide enough to cover my typical sprawling, starfish-esque sleeping position.
I was initially worried I would get overheated under the weight of the blanket, but I didn’t at all. Despite its weight, the blanket I purchased was surprisingly cool and breathable.
The first few nights I used the weighted blanket, I woke up to find it crumpled on the ground next to me.
I tend to avoid wearing or sleeping in anything that feels constricting — a crew cut shirt or a turtleneck would never make its way into my wardrobe. The weighted blanket initially felt cumbersome and confining. I had trouble adjusting and worried I had another failed sleep solution to add to my list.
And then, a few days into my experiment, I had a very anxious day. A million freelance writing deadlines were looming and my husband and I were in the midst of purchasing our first home.
Worried thoughts endlessly rolled through my mind and I had trouble catching my breath. I knew a rough night of sleep was ahead of me.
I had significant work to get done the following day, so Xanax was out of the question.
I cozied up under my weighted blanket and was surprised when, eight hours later, I woke up still beneath it. I had tossed and turned a handful of times throughout the night, but never kicked the blanket completely off of me.
I woke up feeling well-rested and calm. My neck wasn’t as tight as normal. The thoughts looming in my mind before bed had vanished and seemed insignificant in the light of day.
Eight hours of sleep — and feeling cuddled
Over the next two weeks, I slept with the weighted blanket each night, and woke up beneath it each morning. I began to feel a beautiful sense of calm when I’d cozy up underneath it before bed.
I enjoyed the feeling so much I even began using the blanket when reading before bed or surfing the internet on the couch.
Simply having it rested against me from the waist down was soothing in a way I hadn’t ever experienced.
I found the blanket particularly beneficial on the nights when my husband worked overnight and I was home alone.
Cuddling with him in silence before bed for 10 or 20 minutes each night always soothes my anxiety. When he couldn’t be there, the weighted blanket was a happy substitute. It made me feel as safe and secure as I could without him actually being there.
Though my husband and I still struggled to share our bed during the two-week experiment, we had more successful days than normal. Because I was so tightly enveloped, I could hardly feel him moving beside me.
After my experiment, I asked my husband who’s a doctor, what he thought the medical explanation was for why weighted blankets helped people not only with anxiety, but ADHD and autism, too. “I think it’s because your whole body is being cuddled,” he joked.
I’ve used the weighted blanket on and off for the past month and can confidently say it’s a routine I’ll maintain.
It’s not the magical cure for my sleep problems. But it’s surprisingly effective at helping me achieve deeper sleep, especially when used in conjunction with my white noise machine.
Though I still wake up multiple times a night, I’m at 4 or 5 instead of 10.
I’d call that progress.
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Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor with a particular interest in health-related content. Her work has appeared in The Cut, the Chicago Tribune, Racked, Business Insider, and SUCCESS Magazine. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found traveling, drinking copious amounts of green tea, or surfing Etsy. You can see more samples of her work at www.jamiegfriedlander.com and follow her on social media.