Why You Should Use a Weighted Blanket for Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on April 12, 2017Written by Corey Whelan

Overview

Weighted blankets are heavier than the kinds of blankets people usually buy. They typically weigh anywhere from 4 to 30 pounds, making them heavier than the average comforter or down quilt. For many people who have disorders such as anxiety, insomnia, or autism, weighted blankets may provide a safe alternative to medication or other types of treatment. They can also be used to complement existing therapies. Research has shown that weighted blankets can help reduce symptoms and manage these conditions.

What are the benefits of a weighted blanket for anxiety?

Weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety in both children and adults. They’re typically safe to use. They help many people achieve a relaxed state, allowing them to sleep more deeply.

Weighted blankets help ground your body during sleep by pushing it downwards. This process, known as “earthing” or “grounding,” may have a deeply calming effect. The blankets also simulate deep pressure touch (DPT), a type of therapy that uses firm, hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety.

Studies show that grounding may help reduce nighttime levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol is produced when your brain thinks you’re under attack, eliciting the fight or flight response. Stress can escalate cortisol levels. This can have a negative impact upon the immune system. It can also increase blood sugar levels and adversely affect the digestive tract.

Elevated cortisol levels, especially those that don’t drop back down to normal levels naturally, can cause multiple complications. These include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • weight gain

By providing deep pressure touch, weighted blankets can promote relaxation and help break this cycle. This may trigger the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are feel-good hormones produced in the brain. These hormones help combat stress, anxiety, and depression.

A study reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine indicated that grounding the human body while sleeping is an effective way to synchronize cortisol secretion with its natural, 24-hour circadian rhythms, especially in women. Grounding helped reduce cortisol production in the participants during sleep. This improved their sleep and alleviated stress, insomnia, and pain.

Another study found that 30-lb weighted blankets are a safe and effective way to reduce anxiety in adults. Of the 32 adults who participated in the study, 63 percent reported lower levels of anxiety.

Keep reading: 10 ways to reduce stress »

How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

Your own weight should help you determine the weight of the blanket. Some weighted blanket manufacturers recommend that adults buy a blanket that’s 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. For children, they recommend blankets that are 10 percent of their body weight plus 1 to 2 pounds. Your doctor or an occupational therapist can also help you to decide which weight blanket will be the most comfortable and efficient for you.

It’s also a good idea to choose a blanket that’s made from a natural fiber, such as breathable 100 percent cotton. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics are typically much hotter.

Weighted blankets aren’t for everyone, since they may add some heat as well as weight. Before using a weighted blanket, you should discuss it with your doctor if you:

  • have a chronic health condition
  • are going through menopause
  • have circulation issues
  • have respiration issues
  • have temperature regulation issues

Where to buy weighted blankets

You can find weighted blankets online. Some options include:

Some insurance plans cover weighted blankets, provided you have a prescription from your doctor. Call your provider to find out if this option is available to you. Since weighted blankets are medical expenses, they may also be tax deductible, to the extent allowed by law.

If you’re handy with a needle, you can even make your own weighted blanket at home. Watch a how-to video here.

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