6 Weighted Blanket Benefits

Pros and Cons About the Popular “Pressure Therapy” Device

Weighted blankets, also known as gravity blankets, have been used for years by mental health professionals as a form of pressure therapy, often to relieve anxiety. Today, these blankets have become popular in the mainstream, made with or without their traditional pellet weighting.

The blankets, weighing anywhere from 5 to 30 pounds, are touted as offering benefits for adults who hope to relieve stress or improve sleep. They also calm children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as seniors living in residential care homes.

This article looks at the pros and cons of weighted blankets, given that there is still much debate over whether weighted blankets offer real benefits. It also looks at the specific situations when weighted blankets may not be helpful.

Conditions Potentially Helped by Weighted Blankets

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blankets are designed to apply gentle pressure to your body when you are sleeping or curled up snug. Sometimes called gravity blankets, they are sold in specific sizes and weights.

Most of these blankets are made with plastic pellets, glass beads, or ceramic beads to create the weight within the blanket. Others use alternative fabrics for filling, or you can make them yourself.

Some weighted blanket models are even made with metal chain material sewn into them. They're used to treat insomnia, or the inability to sleep, in people with serious psychiatric conditions.

In the Swedish city of Stockholm, some 2,700 blankets are prescribed to treat adults in psychiatric care every year, with research results suggesting a clear benefit.

How Do They Work?

The therapeutic benefits of a weighted blanket rely on what's called pressure therapy. It is a way to enhance the positive feelings of security that gentle but firm pressure often evokes.

This deep pressure stimulation (DPS) is believed to promote your body's ability to produce serotonin, which helps to regulate mood. It's a neurotransmitter, meaning that it helps to send signals between your brain and other parts of the body.

DPS also stimulates the production of melatonin, another neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep. At the same time, the pressure also appears to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.

This appears to bring benefits to people with mental health conditions or agitation, as with dementia. But they're also being used to support well-being in college students who experience anxiety, military veterans with sleep disorders, and people with conditions like multiple sclerosis.

The research on weighted blankets is focused on how pressure stimulation is helping people with specific disorders, such as adults with anxiety or children living on the autism spectrum. Studies continue to explore the benefits of the blankets even as more people in the general population are trying them too.

Weighted Blanket Benefits

The basics of how weighted blankets may work to reduce anxiety and improve sleep remain the same, no matter who wants to use them. There are health conditions in which they may have specific benefits but the research remains inconclusive.

On the other hand, there is little risk in trying the blankets for most (but not all) people. Experts say they should be avoided if you have conditions that include:

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

The American Psychological Association (APA) surveys people in the United States about their stress each year. The COVID-19 pandemic added to that stress in 2021. The stress levels among respondents included:

  • Parents who said they would have liked more emotional support across the year (79%)
  • Levels of stress over jobs (also money, health and other concerns) that continued on (66%)
  • People so stressed about the pandemic it interfered with their basic decisions (32%)

There are many reasons to experience stress or anxiety, and most people do. Weighted blankets may offer some relief from these symptoms, although it's not entirely clear that's true of all people.

Keep in mind that severe symptoms of anxiety or stress may indicate a serious health issue, whether mental or physical. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and seek appropriate care.

Improve Sleep

The research on weighted blankets often supports its use in specific populations but the evidence is less clear that using them improves the sleep of most people. That was the finding of a systematic literature review of eight studies that evaluated the evidence.

Weighted blankets appeared to relieve anxiety in some people with specific diagnoses, but there was not enough evidence to suggest a benefit in reducing insomnia and improving sleep.

What some experts say is that it may be better to begin by evaluating your overall sleep hygiene, since a weighted blanket is an environmental factor itself. This may involve lifestyle changes that include:

  • Limiting alcohol or tobacco use
  • Getting enough exercise, but not before bed
  • Adjusting the light, noise, or temperature in your sleep space
  • Dialing down your screen time before bed

Helps People with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Weighted blankets may help adults and children who are living on the autism spectrum and experience sensory processing disorders. People with this disorder have difficulty coping with sensory input that includes sounds, light, and movement.

Weighted blankets are one therapeutic strategy that may relieve insomnia and high levels of anxiety associated with this sensory overload. In some cases, they've been recommended for years as part of an overall approach to relieving these symptoms.

One study included 37 adults, and 48 children and adolescents, who were diagnosed with either ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.

They used weighted blankets at some point during a four-year window, although in different ways at different times: 78% used them to sleep at night, while 24% used them during the day while reading, watching television, or relaxing.

Of the 85 participants, 59% said the weighted blanket helped them to sleep while 45.8% said that using the blanket appeared to help them in their daily routines.

What About Deep Touch Pressure?

Deep touch pressure is often used, in a similar way to weighted blankets, to help people with sensory processing difficulties. Some studies suggest a benefit for children living with autism, but a 2016 analysis found the research was not robust enough to confirm evidence of this benefit.

Helps People with ADHD

Many children with ADHD have sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling asleep and waking up several times throughout the night. There is some evidence that weighted blankets may prove useful in helping some children with ADHD who have difficulty sleeping.

As in other situations, there is limited evidence from research studies but scientists are learning more. A 2021 study, based on interviews with 24 parents of children who used weighted blankets for 16 weeks, found positive results. The parents said their children:

  • Slept better, including the time until they fell asleep and how well they stayed asleep
  • Experienced improved well-being, including less anxiety and increased relaxation
  • Saw progress in daily activities, including school and home life

Researchers continue to investigate the value of weighted blankets in adults as well, but more study is needed to confirm the benefits of weighted blankets in people living with ADHD.

Weighted Blankets and Other Conditions

The use of weighted blankets may be a strategy when treating other health conditions, including chronic pain and fibromyalgia. At least one study suggests there may be some benefit to this approach.

In that case, 94 adults with chronic pain from various causes used either 15-pound or 5-pound weighted blankets to see if their use improved their pain symptoms. The respondents then described their feelings of pain intensity, anxiety, and ability to sleep.

Use of the heavier blankets was associated with improved perceptions of chronic pain, particularly among those with higher anxiety levels.

Weighted blankets also may offer benefits for people who face the anxiety of medical procedures, such as dental care or chemotherapy.

Creates Feeling of Security

Weighted blankets are meant to provide a healing touch through their firm pressure. They're designed to mimic the sense of swaddling that brings comfort to newborns, or the comforting hug that helps people to feel safe and secure.

The blankets may be a welcome addition for anyone who prefers the sense of weight while sleeping and relaxing. As a general rule, they are safe for healthy adults, older children, and teenagers.

But be sure to check with your healthcare provider if you have an underlying condition, or if you plan to use the weighted blankets in young children under age 2. That's because of the suffocation risk.

In addition, a weighted blanket may also be unsuitable for those people who are claustrophobic, as it may cause anxiety rather than ease it.

How to Choose the Right Weighted Blanket

As a general rule, a weighted blanket should be 10% of an adult person’s body weight, according to most manufacturers’ websites. Other guidelines include:

  • Adults can use medium-to-large weighted blankets ranging from 12 to 30 pounds.
  • For a 30- to 70-pound child, a small weighted blanket should weigh from 5 to 8 pounds.
  • For a 30- to 130-pound child, a medium-weighted blanket should weigh from 5 to 15 pounds.

Young children should never be left unsupervised with a weighted blanket, particularly those made for an adult.

Summary

Weighted blankets are designed to create firm pressure on the body. This may benefit people who have anxiety or stress, as well as other mental or physical health conditions.

They're often used to care for people with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, but their use is being evaluated in other areas of medical treatment. Among them are people living with chronic pain, cancer patients under treatment with chemotherapy, and seniors living in care facilities.

While there is some evidence that weighted blankets can help people, especially children, there is still limited research that demonstrates a clear benefit to using them.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the mixed reviews on whether weighted blankets work or not. they are popular with many people due to the comfort they provide. In most cases, there is little risk in trying one if you like. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider, though if you have a health condition that might make it riskier for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you wash a weighted blanket?

    The Sleep Foundation recommends that you machine wash your weighted blanket on a gentle cycle, avoiding bleach or hot water. Most blankets can be machine-dried but be sure to fluff them periodically during the dry cycle. Check the specific recommendations of your blanket manufacturer, though.

  • Is it OK to use a weighted blanket every night?

    Generally, how much you use a weighted blanket will be a matter of personal preference. You may find you sleep well when using it every night, or that you don't always need or want to. If the blanket is your child's, be sure to speak to your pediatrician about what type of blanket you buy and how it should be used.

  • How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

    Your weighted blanket should be about 10% of your body weight, although you may want to go a bit higher or lower. For children, you'll want to be sure you have a lighter weight product.

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