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Adult swaddling refers to a Japanese practice known as otonamaki, or “adult wrapping.”
Midwife Nobuko Watanabe developed the practice in 2015, mainly to help show new parents that swaddling was beneficial (and not uncomfortable) for babies. The practice quickly became associated with other health and relaxation benefits.
Adult swaddling isn’t quite the same as infant swaddling, which pediatricians often recommend as one way to soothe babies and help them sleep, according to a 2017 research review. When swaddling an infant, you wrap them in a blanket while they lie flat on their back. It’s believed this reminds them of the close comfort of the womb or being held in a parent’s arms.
Being swaddled as an adult means you’ll be wrapped from head to toe in mesh cotton sheets while in the fetal position. Then, the swaddler will gently rock or roll you around the swaddling room.
What’s the point, you might wonder? How can being cocooned in cloth have any benefits whatsoever? We’ve got the details below.
Many people who’ve tried adult swaddling say the experience helps them feel warm, comforted, and relaxed. Pleasant relaxation may be enough for some, but others report that being swaddled also:
Scientific studies have yet to explore the benefits of adult swaddling, so there’s no research to support this practice. That said, the popularity of weighted blankets may help explain why people find swaddling helpful.
Plenty of people swear by weighted blankets for anxiety and insomnia relief, and a 2020 research review showed there’s limited evidence suggesting they do help ease anxiety for some people. While lying under a heavy blanket isn’t quite the same as being wrapped tightly in swaddling sheets, the inability to move while being swaddled could yield a similar sense of relaxation and weightlessness.
Weighted blankets themselves are considered a type of deep pressure stimulation, a form of therapeutic touch designed to mimic the sensation of a hug or squeeze. A small 2020 study showed that deep pressure therapy may help ease anxiety and stress in people who feel calmer after being held or touched. And a
It’s also worth noting that many people find the fetal position comforting. If you find this position comfortable, you could potentially find it even more comfortable to rock yourself, or have someone rock you, while tied into swaddling blankets in this position.
What’s more, Knees-to-Chest Pose and Child’s Pose, two common yoga poses that may help relieve pain, both somewhat resemble the fetal position. Yoga is widely recognized as a practice that can relax both the mind and body.
For the most part, the practice of adult swaddling remains largely limited to Japan, where you can book swaddling sessions with a physiotherapist or otonamaki instructor.
Airflow is important, since the wrappings will cover your head and the session lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. When trying swaddling at home, you’ll likely have the most success with a thin, stretchy woven blanket — one you can mostly see (and breathe) through.
Japanese practitioners use special mesh sheets for swaddling, since mesh fabric offers both flexibility and breathability.
A stretchy jersey sheet could work. Just keep in mind that you may end up more stressed if you can’t breathe as easily as you’d like. Your best option may be to purchase loosely woven fabric from a craft store to create your own swaddling blanket. Avoid tulle, which can rip easily, and look for fabric that has some stretch.
You can’t wrap yourself, so if you want to try adult swaddling, you’ll have to get help from a friend or partner.
Here’s how to give swaddling a try
- Sit cross-legged on the sheet with your hands in your lap. About 10 to 12 inches of cloth should extend past your crossed legs.
- Your partner should raise the sheet behind you to make sure another 10 inches or so of cloth extend above your head.
- If you want to make sure your neck is supported, have your partner place a rolled towel or other thick fabric behind your head before tying the first knot.
- Now, your partner should raise the sheet up behind you, letting it drape over your head.
- Next, they should match one top sheet corner to the alternate bottom sheet corner. The top left corner would be matched with the bottom right corner, for example.
- These two corners should be knotted. The knot should be tight enough to hold you in position and remain knotted.
- The other two corners should be knotted in a similar manner.
- The loose fabric under your feet can now be pulled up and knotted with the fabric draped over your head to completely cocoon you. Any additional loose fabric should also be tied.
- Now, your partner can gently roll you onto your back or rock you back and forth. You may want to use a thin, flat cushion for extra support. This rocking is part of the swaddling therapy.
- Many practitioners also incorporate color therapy in swaddling sessions by draping brightly colored fabric over the mesh, the idea here being that colors can evoke different relaxing sensations or emotions. For example, blue might make you feel as if you’re drifting underwater, while green could call to mind a peaceful forest.
Not sold on total immobility?
As an alternative, you might also consider the Sleep Pod. This stretchy sleep sack uses gentle pressure to compress you into your preferred sleep position. It’s designed to offer similar relaxation and sleep benefits as a weighted blanket, without the heaviness.
You can use a Sleep Pod much as you would swaddling sheets, if you use it while in the fetal position, but you can use it without completely enclosing your body.
While adult swaddling doesn’t appear to pose any significant health risks, some chiropractors and physiotherapists have pointed out it could possibly increase pain or cause an injury if it isn’t done properly.
You may not be able to find a trained instructor outside Japan. When trying swaddling on your own, you’ll want to proceed with extra caution to avoid injuring your neck or back.
Swaddling could help ease simple stiffness in your muscles, but if you have any existing injuries, it’s best to wait until they heal completely before you try swaddling. If your seated position already feels uncomfortable, you probably won’t feel any better compressed into that position for 20 minutes.
Since your head will be wrapped, you’ll probably want to skip the swaddle if you have claustrophobia or feel even a little uneasy in tight spaces.
Make sure to stick with very thin or mesh fabric to prevent any breathing difficulties. If you have trouble breathing in general, you’ll probably want to leave your mouth and nose exposed.
It’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional about alternative therapies like swaddling before you give them a try on your own, especially if you have a medical condition or injury.
Scientific evidence has yet to find support for any potential benefits of adult swaddling. All the same, many people find the tight wrappings relaxing and, contrary to what you might expect, freeing.
Swaddling isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for people who dislike small spaces. That said, if you love your weighted blanket and want to try a lighter — but tighter — approach to relaxation, swaddling may be just the thing to help you unwind.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.