Suffering from sleep problems? You’re hardly alone. An estimated 10 to 30 % of people worldwide struggle to fall asleep each night, and sipping chamomile tea isn’t enough to get quality sleep. Forget about counting sheep, it doesn’t work!
One non-pharma strategy that I feel is helpful is to use a weighted blanket. Another natural strategy would be to drink an herbal tea, like my Lavender Rose Sleep Tea.
Last spring, my husband bought a weighted blanket to try. He’s a chiropractor by trade, so he’s always interested in trying healing modalities. He was having a flare up of insomnia (which we later attributed to drinking his tea too late in the day). Anyway, he used the blanket for a few weeks and realized it was too heavy for him (25 lb “extra heavy pressure”) so it was a mistake that he bought one so heavy. It would sometimes make his feet go numb. That is way too heavy, and not a smart thing for anyone to do (ie to buy one that heavy!) His nerves are also more sensitive than normal.
Looking back, for Sam with his weight of 200, he should have gotten one that is closer to 20 lb, or even better 15 lb, erring on the lower end of the spectrum (since he has nerve sensitivity and was experiencing numbness with the 25 lb blanket).
If you have sleep troubles, or your child has them from a chronic condition that impacts sleep, then a weighted blanket might help. It’s an interesting tool and has no untoward side effects the way Z drugs and benzos do. If you have chronic insomnia, then take a few moments later and CLICK HERE to read, 7 Common but Strange Reasons for Insomnia.
Let’s dive into the details so that you can decide for yourself.
What is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are simply blankets that are specially designed to weigh much more than a typical quilt or comforter. The weight ranges depending on the blanket you choose, and you can buy one based upon its weight. They are also called “Gravity” blankets, and that is the name of the original brand, but there are many good ones today to choose from.
These blankets range in weight from as few as 4, 5 and 6 lb blankets to 25 lb, and most are filled with plastic beads (similar to a Beanie Baby toy) or glass beeds, also you may find natural fillers like rice or barley. There are several good options. You can even make your own weighted quilt, if you have that skill set.
This extra heft means that the blanket puts pressure on your body when you sleep under it, and this mimics the feeling of close physical contact. In this way, weighted blankets create an atmosphere of physical intimacy and security that can improve your mood and sometimes soothe sensory disorders.
People who suffer with anxiety, often find this comforting, and it might even help as an adjunctive treatment for insomnia. I think it would be an interesting idea for people with akathisia or restless legs syndrome. It won’t cure that, but it might provide a sense of minimizing them. If you’d like to read more about that topic, CLICK HERE to read, Akathisias Make You Want to Jump Out of Your Skin.
Restless leg syndrome (Restless legs syndrome is a huge cause for insomnia. It’s a central nervous system condition that causes you to feel uncomfortable wormy or itchy sensations in the legs. It can cause pins and needles or the feeling like bugs are crawling on you. Weighted blankets, if they’re the right weight for you, may allow the sensation of calming to these irritated nerves. The blankets increase serotonin a little too which reduces anxiety when RLS symptoms occur. It’s certainly an idea for people with this condition, as well as people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I have an article that I wrote which might interest you called, 14 Quick Hacks for Leg Cramps.
The Benefits of Deep Touch Pressure
How can a blanket improve your sleep, and thus your overall health? The answer is found in the benefits of deep touch pressure. Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) is the scientific term used for the soothing feeling you experience when there is gentle, distributed weight against your body. Think of how you feel when you receive a bear hug or burrow into a heavy sleeping bag. At our deepest core, we all want to be cuddled, right? It’s kind of like that!
The feeling isn’t just in your head; the gentle pressure of DTP allows you to feel instantly calmer and more relaxed, especially if you’re not getting enough affection or tactile stimulation. Deep touch pressure reduces the ‘noise’ in your autonomic nervous system, it slows down firing. This triggers a feeling of peaceful relaxation. It allows an increase in natural cannabinoids and other endorphins. (FYI, we make cannabinoids, but it’s also the same receptors that bind the plant cannibinoids from CBD, a NON-physchoactive component of hemp/marijuana).
Ultimately, if you have the correct weight for your weighted blanked, you might see a reduction in heart rate over time which could be good for some people, and others it might be a contraindication. If you have a medical condition that involves your cardiovascular system, please ask your cardiologist.
Mood-promoting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are also released in the process, which is why snuggling, getting a massage, or sleeping with a body pillow feels so good to us. And I suspect you (or your child) can get similar benefits from a weighted blanket. If you’re still skeptical of the general health benefits these could offer, let me share 5 interesting facts.
5 Benefits of Weighted Blankets
1. Raise Serotonin and Calm Down
Using a weighted blanket can lower your stress levels and improve your ability to relax. A STUDY focused around the benefits of 30-pound weight blankets found that participants who wrapped themselves in them had lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Further research shows that the benefits are even more impressive if the blankets are used during high-stress situations, like visiting the dentist. In one STUDY, patients who used weighted blankets during an appointment showed physiological changes in their nervous systems after just a few minutes of use.
Stimulating deep touch pressure with a weighted blanket triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in your brain. These two endorphins can combat stress, anxiety, and depression and leave you with an elevated mood. For this reason, it’s smart to consider covering yourself in a weighted blanket when you feel stressed.
2. Reduce Cortisol and Sleep Better
A better night’s sleep might be just one weighted blanket away. A STUDY on patients with insomnia found that those who slept with a weighted blanket had an easier time falling asleep and were less restless over the course of the night. These benefits can be partly explained by the fact that weighted blankets can INCREASE your serotonin levels.
Serotonin helps moderate your body’s melatonin supply, the compound that triggers feelings of sleepiness at night. Likewise, when your body is stressed, it responds by increasing its cortisol production, a stress hormone that triggers your ‘fight or flight response.’ Excessive levels of this hormone put your body on high alert; stressing your immune system, compromising digestion, and raising your blood sugar in the process. Unsurprisingly, this can prevent you from falling asleep.
The solution to keeping your cortisol levels under control might be a weighted blanket. Because they “ground” your body in place as you sleep, these heavy blankets naturally reduce your cortisol production. This lets you wake up feeling refreshed and less susceptible to overreacting to stressful situations, which helps to break the cycle of poor sleep.
3. Increase Oxytocin and Feel Relaxed
The modern world makes many people feel isolated, and lots of us suffer from a lack of physical touch from other humans. The medical BENEFITS of hugging are well understood, and a weighted blanket can mimic that same feeling. Wrapping yourself in one when you feel alone can elevate your oxytocin levels, which helps you feel better by slowing down your heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and helping you feel relaxed. Here’s an article you might be interested in if you have trouble sleeping, CLICK HERE to read, 9 Reasons You Don’t Sleep Like a Baby.
4. Improve Attention Span in Kids
Could it help with attention problems? The gentle tactile feeling of deep touch pressure can work as a relaxer to significantly increase the concentration and performance of children with ADHD, or kids who are just a little squirmy.
There is also evidence that the extra sensory stimulation from a weighted blanket can help children improve their fine motor skills, especially if they have autism. In fact, they were first invented as a stress aid for autistic children. After researchers realized how well they worked, the blankets became available for a more substantial portion of the population.
While a weighted blanket doesn’t make sense in the school environment, a specially-designed weighted vest can produce similar benefits. These are also widely available on Amazon and other private e-tailers.
5. Help Manage OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be challenging to manage, but using a weighted blanket might help you control your symptoms. That’s because using a heavier blanket can boost your serotonin levels, which works to reduce the symptoms of OCD by calming your mind so that you can relax and let go of your compulsions. For these same reasons, the blankets can also improve other emotional issues or cognitive problems connected to low serotonin levels, including aggression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. At our deepest core, we all want to be cuddled, right? It’s kind of like that!
Should Everyone Try a Weighted Blanket?
While weighted blankets make sense for many people, they are NOT right for everyone. I think that if you have a chronic medical condition, it’s worth a question to your Physician, Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner.
Here are some times when I question the use of a weighted blanket (unless approved by your doctor):
* Chronic heart condition
* Poor circulation in the hands/feet or fingers
* Thermal dysregulation
* Prone to hot flashes (the blanket might make you feel hotter)
* Diabetes or pre-diabetes
If you use a weighted blanket in these cases, especially one that is too heavy, it could be very harmful because it cuts off circulation too much. Remember, my hubby used a blanket (too heavy for himself) and would wake up with numb feet, it was really a bad idea for him.
But I don’t want to talk you out of it. I just want you to avoid it if you have certain conditions, and also ask your doctor if you have any reservations about it… and also choose the correct weight for yourself. Then it could be an absolute blessing.
How to Choose the Best Weight Blanket
Weight is most important.
If you’d like to try a weighted blanket, choosing what kind of blanket will be the most important decision you make. Don’t base it on the cheapest or the most natural… base it on weight. This is the single most important decision to make first, and then look at the materials, filling etc. The reason this is important is because the wrong weight can be harmful.
For example, you might choose a blanket that is too heavy for yourself, and this will cause your limbs to go numb, and go to sleep, and this can be very dangerous to your health and well-being. So if you are going to err, err on the lighter blanket than a heavy one. Make sure that wherever you shop, the return policy allows you to return without a re-stocking fee.
Find out what it’s made of. Polyester and other synthetic fibers don’t breathe as well, so through the night, they can make you feel sweaty, sticky or otherwise uncomfortable. Ideally, look for blankets made from more natural materials, preferably cotton or blends that include cotton.
Maybe you don’t want to sleep in a blanket that’s weighted, but you’d like to try one during the day while relaxing in your recliner or sofa. You can certainly pursue a small one, such a blanket to use on your lap while watching TV or reading, or chatting on the phone with your mom. (Call your mother back, don’t make her wait).
Pay attention to filling. The filler material varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. While natural materials like rice or barley are my preferred option, these substances break down over time, and they might produce dust which triggers allergies for some of you. For this reason, you may want to buy a blanket that’s filled with plastic pellets, similar to what you would find in a stuffed animal.
Choose the right size. If it’s being used for sleeping, as opposed to short-term reading, watching TV, doing homework etc… I would suggest selecting a blanket that’s slightly smaller than your mattress. If you get one that hangs over the edges, you risk it sliding off in the night. Plus, the bigger the blanket, the heavier it is for you.
And regarding the weight, look for a blanket that is about 5 to 10% of your overall body weight. So if you’re 100 lb, then the blanket should be about 5 to 10 lb total weight. If you’re 200 lb, maybe you would like a 15 to 20 lb.
This is not a hard fast rule of course, it’s just a starting point. If you need more advice, I recommend talking with an occupational therapist or reading reviews online for some of these blankets, or calling the companies and asking them outright, “What weight do you think is best, or is the most popular?”
Weighted blankets are an easy, all-natural way to improve your mood, lower stress levels, and fall asleep faster. Try one out! I think that you’ll be impressed.
Here are some of my favorites and well-reviewed blankets, or ones that I’ve personally purchased:
Heavy Sleeper Cool Weighted Gravity Blanket – This is 15 lbs and it’s sold on Amazon and uses premium cotton as well as non-toxic odorless glass beads and it’s advertised for “natural stress reduction, anxiety relief, insomnia and autism.” They’ll let you return it within 30 days without penalty, at least that’s what they advertise. Reviewers have given it a 4.9 out of 5 star review status.
ZonLi Weighted Blanket – This blanket comes in various different beautiful color combinations, and it’s made of 100% natural cotton. It is advertised as hypoallergenic, and uses non-toxic odorless glass beads.
There are 2 layers of microfiber inside to prevent leakage of the glass beads, and make it breathable. They also offer a nice guarantee. They have a 48″ x 72″ grey soft blanket that is 12 lb, ideal for someone who is 100 – 140 lb (45 – 64 kg).
CuddleBug Weighted Blanket for Kids and Adults (10, 15 and 20 lbs) – The price varies depending on the size of the blanket you buy. They have a 4.9 out of 5 review status, and the company boasts a lifetime guarantee. This gravity blanket is made of 100% cotton and the weight of it comes from fine glass sand (that would be soft to touch) and dispersed in small pockets for even distribution. Other cheaper brands may be using poly pellets that are harsh to the touch and cause uneven weight distribution.
YnM Weighted Blanket – This awesome blanket has over 1500 reviews and 4.3 out of 5 stars. It comes in so many delicious looking colors and weights including THIS one which is 15 lb, sized for a Twin Bed, and 48″ x 72″. What I like is that you can buy a 5lb blanket by this brand, and a little 5 lb blanket is hard to find, so this is going to be ideal for a child that has autism or anxiety. The weights on this brand go all the way up to 25 lbs. It’s made of 100% cotton material and glass beads and they offer a 3 year warranty. When making your selection, be sure to choose the color/weight that you want as there are several options.
I am no one’s spokesperson and I am only interested in sharing holistic ideas with you that are free of side effects and bring comfort and healing to your life. That said I do earn a few nickels from my affilliate link if you decide to purchase any of these and click through my link. There are dozens of good brands, and you should do a thorough search before making a purchase.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.