In moments of extreme anxiety or sadness, how do you take care of yourself? I find it helpful to move my body; I stretch and listen to some of my favorite songs. Other times, when my mind is racing, I watch a comforting TV show. And still other times, the best remedy is a long hug with a family member. But when that’s not possible, lately I’ve been reaching for the next best thing: a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like — heavy blankets that weigh between five and 30 pounds. They’re used therapeutically, and people often buy them to ease symptoms of insomnia and nighttime anxiety.
I discovered weighted blankets when I visited my sister and borrowed hers. The extra weight felt a little uncomfortable at first (once the blanket is on, it takes a bit more effort to adjust your position), but I quickly got used to it. Before too long, I’d borrowed the blanket indefinitely, curling up under it and watching The Great British Baking Show on stressful days. But why does being under a heavy cover help ease anxiety, and do these benefits extend to everyone?
To understand how a weighted blanket can improve mental health, I reached out to Rosalind Pistillli, LCSW a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at The Open Arms Transition Center, and Gergana Markov, MS, MBA, a licensed professional counselor at The Montfort Group.
How a weighted blanket eases anxiety
According to Markov and Pistilli, yes. “A weighted blanket activates the senses and provides warmth, softness, and a soothing touch to lower cortisol levels, slow the heart rate, deepen breathing, and send the autonomic nervous system into ‘rest and digest’ state,” says Markov. (The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the nerves that control our automatic functions, like our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.) “Much like a tight hug from a loved one, the light pressure of the blanket creates a sense of safety and calm.” (Click through for more easy ways to regulate your nervous system and to learn how a technique called ‘tapping’ eases anxiety.)
“All of these effects help to ‘settle’ the physical impact of anxiety on the body, sending signals to the brain that the body is relaxed,” adds Pistilli. “This helps the brain reduce the emotional and chemical reactions of an anxious state. The brain finds it difficult to ‘rationalize’ remaining anxious signals when the body is calm and relaxed, so the body essentially overrides the brain’s signals.”
How a weighted blanket eases depresssion
We all know how good a nice, long hug can feel — and there’s science to back that feeling up. “Depression symptoms like pervasive sadness, low energy, and lack of motivation are associated with lower serotonin levels,” Markov explains. “Research shows that the feeling of being held and supported can increase serotonin levels and activate the production of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine known as the ‘love and pleasure’ neurotransmitters, which results in improved mood and a greater sense of happiness.” (Click through for serotonin-boosting foods.)
“In [therapy] session, clients will report a sense of being ‘hugged’ by the blanket which also contributes to a feeling of safety and security, thereby lowering distress signals triggered by depression,” Pistilli confirms.
Weighted blanket brands we like
We like the Magic Weighted Blanket (Buy from The Magic Weighted Blanket, $189), which weighs 12 pounds in the size 42 x 60. (This size is great for someone who is worried about lifting and carrying it.) It’s available in five colors, three sizes, and four styles — chenille, “cool cotton,” “minky magic,” and flannel — and has an attached duvet cover, so you don’t have to remove an outer cover to wash. The inner materials include cotton and nontoxic poly pellets for weight. The blanket is also machine washer and dryer-friendly and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Another good option: The Nest Bedding’s Weighted Blanket (Buy from The Nest Bedding, $162), which weighs 18 pounds in the size queen. (It also comes in twin and king.) The material is polyester and bamboo, and the weight comes from a mix of tiny glass beads and polyester fiber. These materials require that it be machine washed separately with cold water on a delicate cycle, or spot cleaned. Then, tumble dry it on low for one cycle, remove and hang it to fully dry. This blanket also comes with a travel tote.
Click through to discover the best weighted blankets for kids.
Frequently asked weighted blanket questions
What weighs down a weighted blanket?
Different brands use different materials, but some of the materials used to add weight are: a) a blend of tiny glass beads and polyester fiber; b) nontoxic polypropylene pellets, or poly pellets; c) steel shot beads, or tiny steel beads; d) heavy, chunky knit fabric.
Can you wash a weighted blanket?
It depends on the brand, but most brands create machine-washable blankets to make it easier to take care of them. Some blankets are fully machine washable, while others have special instructions — such as wash on a delicate cycle, hang dry, or spot clean only. (Click through to learn how to clean weighted blankets made of different materials.)
How much does a weighted blanket cost?
There’s no skirting around it — weighted blankets aren’t cheap. That’s because the materials used to make weighted blankets and the shipping fees for delivering those materials to manufacturers — which are calculated by weight — are costly. Expect to pay at least $100 for a high-quality blanket.
Do weighted blankets get too hot?
Some blankets are designed to hold in heat, while others have cooling properties that help your body release excess heat while you sleep. If you struggle with hot flashes and menopause symptoms like anxiety and insomnia, you may find the latter type of weighted blanket helpful. Read the blanket’s specifications before buying to ensure it complements your internal temperature fluctuations.
Who should not use a weighted blanket?
Claustrophobic? You might want to stay away. “The weight of the blanket may feel oppressive to anyone who has struggled with containment or the feeling of not being able to move,” says Pistilli. “I also do not recommend weighted blankets for small children who may struggle with appropriate use. Weighted blankets should never be used around infants or toddlers. And they are not universal, in that each person should select a weight appropriate for the intended use of the blanket.”
Markov adds that some people without claustrophobia may still have a negative experience with these blankets. “The weight of the blanket might trigger certain body sensations which would activate a trauma response,” she says.
Thinking of trying one for yourself? If you talk to a therapist or counselor, ask them about weighted blankets. It might be just what you need to get a good night’s sleep.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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