April 2, 2018 -- Toddlers have long used “blankies” to help them feel secure, dry tears, and fall asleep quickly.
But can a little extra weight really help you sleep better?
Leslie Kosco, 56, an oncology nurse in Indianapolis, thinks so. For the past 3 months, she has snuggled under her light gray, 20-pound weighted blanket. She bought it after reading that it could improve sleep and lower anxiety.
"It gives me the feeling that someone is hugging me, and making me feel calmer," she says. "I think my sleep is better." The anxiety? "Well, you know," she laughs. She works with cancer patients, and she and her partner have an active 9-year-old.
She has no idea how the blanket works but is happy it does.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are usually filled with plastic pellets to add weight, ranging from about 4 to 25 pounds. You pick the heaviness of the blanket based on your own weight. Prices range from about $120 to $249 or more.
People compare a weighted blanket’s “hug” to the feeling of the X-ray ''apron'' the dentist puts on you, says David Fuchs, CEO of BlanQuil, one of the makers of weighted blankets.
Other companies include Gravity Blanket, Mosaic Weighted Blankets, and SensaCalm. Fuchs launched his product in December 2017, after he searched for something to help his adult daughter improve her sleep.
"It secures you in one place," Fuchs says. "It seems to help people sleep by the calming effect of feeling like they are being held."
Mike Grillo, managing director of Gravity Blanket, says they shipped more than 50,000 weighted blankets in 2017. That was after the Brooklyn-based startup raised $4.7 million on Kickstarter from late April to late May, 2017.
Laura LeMond says she founded Mosaic Weighted Blankets in 2010 after designing a blanket to meet her own needs for better sleep.
She says the trend has taken off in the past 2 years. At least a half-dozen companies sell them now.
What the Research Shows
Grillo says there aren't many independent studies of the blankets for adults that are reviewed by independent researchers and published in reputable medical journals.
In one study funded by the blanket makers, Swedish researchers found that 31 men and women with moderate insomnia who used the blankets for 2 weeks reported a calmer night's sleep with fewer movements. They believe the blankets helped them sleep more comfortably and securely, and they had higher-quality sleep.
Researchers have looked at how the blankets affect mental health patients. A study from 2015 found that after 32 adults used a 30-pound blanket, 63% reported lower anxiety and 78% preferred the weighted blanket to calm down.
Weighted blankets offer deep pressure stimulation, a form of touch pressure that feels like a firm hug, a massage, or swaddling. While research on weighted blankets is sparse, deep pressure stimulation has been found to calm adults and children with anxiety, autism, and attention difficulties, researchers say.
A Doctor Weighs In
Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the blankets may help people with chronic pain sleep better, as well as those with anxiety or depression.
"It's like having the best hug for a long period of time," he says. And, he says, it may be ''a good alternative to life-long sedative hypnotic medications (sleeping pills) at night."
But he cautions that the weighted blanket is not the cure-all for improving sleep.
"You also have to pay attention to the foundation of good sleep hygiene," he says. That means using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, turning off electronics before bedtime, and keeping the lighting, sounds, and temperature conducive to sleep.
While some research has looked at 30-pound blankets, there is no data behind the “right fit.” The companies suggest you pick one that is about 10% of your body weight so it will not be too heavy, says LeMond of Mosaic. "And for kids, it's 10% of body weight plus 1-2 pounds," she says.
Grillo similarly suggests a target of 7% to 12% of your body weight.