Anxiety robbing your sleep? A weighted blanket may help By Kristen Rogers, CNN

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Wed January 27, 2021

CNN)After my sister gave me a weighted blanket for Christmas, it became the gift that I didn’t know I needed. It’s one of the best things ever to happen to me.

As someone with anxiety, I’ve struggled with restful sleep: Falling asleep can take up to two hours, or I wake up at least twice during the night.

The first night I started sleeping underneath a 15-pound weighted blanket, I slept straight through the night for the first time in months and felt more rested during the day.

After a few days of good sleep, I learned that my sister had done her gift research — she had read that people with anxiety tended to feel more grounded when using the blankets.

Fascinated, I asked experts on mental health and sleep to explain why these heavy blankets — which are filled with plastic, glass or metal particles and layered with extra fabric — have eased the, ahem, weight of some people’s anxiety-related sleep struggles.

Weighted blankets, which range from 5 to 30 pounds (2.27 to 13.6 kilograms), have been used by special needs educators and occupational therapists since the late 1990s, but have become mainstream in the last few years. Regular blankets can weigh around 3 to 5 pounds.

The dominant theory is that weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, a feeling that resembles a “firm, but gentle, squeeze or holding sensation and … triggers these feelings of relaxation and of being calm,” said pulmonary and sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Feeling relaxed is what decreases cortisol, a stress hormone that typically runs high in people with chronic anxiety, stress and other disorders, he added.

There is evidence suggesting that deep pressure stimulation reduces sympathetic nervous system arousal — that’s our fight-or-flight response — and increases parasympathetic activity, which may cause the calming effect, said Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, the director of sleep medicine at Millennium Physician Group in Florida.

Pressure to stimulate the sensation of touch to muscles and joints is the same proposed mechanism behind massage and acupressure, added Abbasi-Feinberg, who is also a neurologist on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s board of directors. “This calming (effect) can promote better quality sleep.”

If you’re interested in using a weighted blanket to aid sleep problems related to mental or sensory disorders, here’s what you should know about their effectiveness, any caveats and how to choose one.

What we do and don’t know

Weighted blankets have been growing in popularity, but there isn’t actually much research on their effectiveness. That may be due to the newness of weighted blankets, their relative harmlessness and that other health issues are more urgent for researchers to study, Dasgupta said.

Some people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or insomnia have reported improved quality of sleep and feeling more restful during the day, a few recent, small studies have found. Many study participants experienced a decrease of 50% or more in their Insomnia Severity Index scores after using a weighted blanket for four weeks, in comparison to 5.4% of the control group, according to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine last September.

In the follow-up phase of the study, which lasted one year, people who used weighted blankets continued to benefit. People who switched from lightweight control blankets to weighted blankets experienced similar effects. And those who used weighted blankets also reported better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, remission from insomnia symptoms and alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Researchers who studied the effects of weighted blankets on children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism have found either some positive associations or no associations with better sleep or reduced symptoms.

“A ‘grounded feeling’ due to the use of weighted blankets may be attributed to the psychoanalytic ‘holding environment’ theory, which states that touch is a basic need that provides calming and comfort,” Abbasi-Feinberg said via email. “Weighted blankets are designed to work similar to the way tight swaddling helps newborns feel snug and secure.”

Foods that can reduce stress

Foods that can reduce stress

Many, if not all, of the available studies on weighted blankets used participants who had a psychiatric, developmental or sleep disorder such as anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD or insomnia. That’s likely because of “the fact that these segments of the population are the ones who could benefit most from touch- or sensory-related therapies,” Abbasi-Feinberg said.

However, given how weighted blankets might work to reduce cortisol levels, they could help to reduce general stress, too, Dasgupta said.

Who can use them

People have shared their fondness for weighted blankets in studies and online, but people with the same psychiatric disorders may not have the same relaxing experiences with weighted blankets. One person in the follow-up phase of the 2020 study discontinued their participation due to feelings of anxiety when using the blanket. People who are claustrophobic may also not fare well. More studies on factors that make individuals more or less helped by weighted blankets are needed, Dasgupta added.

Weighted blankets have become somewhat mainstream as some people feel that the blankets improve sleep quality.

Weighted blankets have become somewhat mainstream as some people feel that the blankets improve sleep quality.

A weighted blanket’s calming abilities may help to regulate breathing, but some health professionals are hesitant to recommend weighted blankets to people with obstructive sleep apnea, asthma or other respiratory conditions. “You’d have to be pretty brittle and pretty sick if a blanket’s going to stop your breathing,” Dasgupta said. But if you’re not sure, he added, be careful and talk to your pulmonologist first.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you

  2. Interesting!

  3. Have you seen this movie

    I watch it again just for its inspiration

    This autistic gal built a hugging machine

    Something like the blanket but with pulleys

    Compression calms us

    The Indians had it correct

    Having their babies in constant contact with their caregiver

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278469/

    Temple Grandin is her name

  4. No I haven’t …. thanks for the recommendation!!

  5. If only I could convince those I mentor to have Temples courage and willpower. Ability to take action

  6. Let me know what you think if you watch it please

  7. I just wrote about getting my first weighted blanket last week I think it was 🙂 Loving them so far, I got a 2nd one that is a bit lighter for just everyday use.

  8. Posted by rudid96 on January 28, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Got to try one of these blankets

  9. Let me know

    We heal in increments

    Every win is accumulative

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