Mar 17, 2023

Do Weighted Blankets Actually Work?

Weighted blankets look like traditional blankets, but are filled with beads or extra fabric to add heft for what companies often advertise as stress-relieving effects. The weight of these blankets—as well as how they’re made—varies. They can range from eight to thirty pounds, and come in an array sizes, from throw blankets to options that’ll cover king-size mattresses. It's said the first weighted blanket was made in 1997, and occupational therapists have been using them as a tool to aid with certain medical conditions ever since. But we got to wondering, do weighted blankets really work?

Weighted blankets exert a gentle pressure over people's bodies, which may help with anxiety.

Gravity Blanket was one of the first brands to bring weighted blankets to the mainstream when the company launched its first blanket on Kickstarter in 2017. Since then numerous weighted blankets have come to the market—from knit options, like what Bearaby sells, to duvet-covered, bead-filled varieties, like Brooklinen's Weighted Comforter. They have become popular within the last decade for a slew of touted benefits such as helping with anxiety, stress, sleep issues, a generally calming effect and more. However, when you dig a little deeper, the exact benefits are less certain.

A weighted blanket is a heavier-than-typical blanket that's filled with some sort of ballast. The weight is distributed throughout the blanket to create even pressure across the body. These blankets come in different styles, with a variety of fabrics on the exterior as well as multiple types of fill. We’ll get into all the different materials, claims, scientific research and more below.

Weighted blankets can be broken down into two different styles when it comes to appearance and manufacture—quilted and knit.

These weighted blankets are constructed like a quilt with squares or other shaped pockets for fill within the blanket. The individual squares contain beads to add weight and maintain the weights distribution. Some have a removable outer fabric cover, much like a duvet cover, while others are just one piece.

These weighted blankets are a popular choice for their aesthetic. They look like oversized knit scarves or ultra-chunky knit throws. Knit blankets differ from quilted blankets in that this style is made from large and hefty yarns knitted into a blanket, rather than quilted squares. The yarns have an outer fabric that's stuffed with soft fiberfill or fabric that gives the blanket its weight.

There are two main categories of weighted blankets: quilted and knit.

Whether quilted or knit, weighted blankets come with various outer fabrics such as cotton, rayon from bamboo, velvet and more. Since overheating is a common complaint associated with weighted blankets, some exterior fabrics have temperature-regulating properties. For example, some are designed to feel cool to the touch, or use fabrics that offer enhanced breathability. Others are made with cozier materials, such as fleece and velvet, that feel warm and snug in cooler temperatures, but definitely aren't as suitable for warmer months.

Many quilted weighted blankets are filled with tiny glass or plastic beads that give them their signature heft. Some pair the beads with fiberfill, which prevents the beads from shifting and make the blanket feel more plush. Knit weighted blankets use fabric or fiberfill stuffed materials, so there's little or no sensation of beads rolling around within the blanket each time you move or change positions in the night.

Weighted blankets were originally used by occupational therapists to treat a variety of conditions including children and adults with autism as well as anxiety in patients with eating disorders. In these settings, "The purpose of a weighted blanket is to provide evenly distributed deep pressure, which is calming for the nervous system," says Holly Peretz, an Israel-based occupational therapist with specialized training and experience working with sensory tools, such as weighted vests and blankets.

Weighted blankets have become more widely recognized, and consequently used, within the last decade thanks to a number of direct-to-consumer brands, like Gravity. Since Gravity's beginnings in 2017, the company has sold over 85,000 blankets, according to its Linkedin page. Bearaby released its popular knit weighted blanket shortly after, in 2018—though we weren't able to discern exactly how many it has sold to date.

Weighted blankets have become popular because some people find the extra pressure soothing—in user reviews and company product descriptions, the blankets are often compared to a gentle, but firm, hug. Some users also swear by the blanket's ability to help with stress, anxiety, sleep problems and a variety of other issues.

The experts we spoke with agree that weighted blankets work for some people, and a number of studies support the idea that weighted blankets can help with anxiety or insomnia for those with psychiatric disorders, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

However, further research is needed. "While there are a limited number of studies supporting the efficacy of weighted blankets to reduce anxiety, much of the support for weighted blankets is anecdotal, particularly in relation to relieving insomnia. More research is definitely needed." says Kathryn Eron, a medical researcher in Denver, who has studied weighted blankets.

It should also be noted that the existing library of studies focus on people with specific medical conditions, such as adults with autism, and not on the general population. All that's to say: There's even less science on the effects of weighted blankets on individuals without specific medical conditions.

But that hasn't stopped the general population from using them, and some doctors recommend these to their patients. Yung Park, M.D. is double board-certified in both internal medicine and psychiatry and the founder of Elevate Medical, a psychiatric practice in New York City. She says when her patients ask about non-medicinal alternatives for better sleep she often recommends weighted blankets.

Anecdotally, she's seen good results. In follow-ups with patients a month after implementing weighted blankets, she's found, "Using the weighted blanket and making no other changes over the previous month, [my patients] see noticeable improvement in the quality and duration of sleep, increased alertness and functional status during the daytime, as well as a decreased feelings of anxiety and depressed mood." She adds that these should be used in conjunction with other non-medicinal treatment options, like talk therapy, relaxation, meditation, light and stimulus control therapy (a type of therapy for people with insomnia that targets controlling stimuli in your environment to promote sleep) in addition to lifestyle changes.

Peretz agrees weighted blankets work for most people, but also states they aren't a one size fits all solution or long-term cure. Interestingly, she also says, "Our bodies become accustomed to the sensation of deep pressure provided (the technical term here is ‘habituation’) and the weighted blanket almost loses its power [over time]."

To combat this, she suggests a unique approach: "As an occupational therapist, I like to recommend seasons of using weighted blankets, especially in times when our sensory and nervous systems are experiencing more load than normal, but [not to] rely on it as an actual [routine] treatment tool. A great example of this is using weighted blankets over the holiday season when there is so much extra activity going on."

The bottom line: There's some scientific research pointing to positive outcomes, but not enough to say these blankets work for most people. The experts we spoke with widely recommend them based on their anecdotal experience, but emphasized that they are not a cure or solution for every condition. Eron also advises additional care should be taken for those with any health issues taken and to discuss using a weighted blanket with a physician before you implement it on your own.

A common recommended guideline is choosing a blanket that's 10% of your body weight. However, Eron says, "There has been no specific research to determine what weight or percentage of an individual's weight is the best, so that is another area that needs exploring."

So where did 10% come from? According to Peretz, These recommendations were originally cited in a study that evaluated occupational therapist's perspectives on using weighted vests—not even blankets.

In the study, the therapists noted that 10% body weight seemed to offer the best calming influence, while still being safe. These recommendations were accepted and used as the standard by many health-related organizations and have been a rule of thumb for most research on the effectiveness of weighted blankets and vests.

According to Peretz, while there isn't enough support for this exact number, it's still a good guideline. This is because the 10% figure offers enough weight to experience deep pressure, without the blanket presenting health or safety risks.

Eron echos that 10% of total body weight is a good starting point. If the recommended 10% weight falls between a manufacturer's available blanket weights or sizes, you may want to consider choosing the lower weight, she suggests. If the blanket is too heavy, it may be uncomfortable.

Peretz notes that how the blanket will be used should also be taken into account. If the blanket will be used as a lap blanket while you’re seated at a desk, for example, you may want to opt for a slightly heavier weight. Those using it over their whole body, as you would while lying down for sleep, may want to choose a lower weight.

Personal preference will also play a role here. When I tested weighted blankets, I found that 10% of my body weight is too heavy and I prefer a lighter weighted blanket because the weight was too much when I was sitting and lying down. I also found the lighter weight options were easier to transport between my couch and the bed.

A handful of weighted blanket companies offer sleep trials, which will allow you to test the product in the comfort of your own home. Sometimes exchange the product for a different weight if you find it isn't quite right. I think these are a great way to size up what's right for you without financially committing.

While many people find great benefits using a weighted blanket, there are some downsides that you’ll want to keep in mind.

Overheating is a common complaint with weighted blankets. The extra layers of fabric and fill required to make weighted blankets can make them warm and insulating. However, brands are now making weighted blankets geared towards cooling and breathability for those that run hot and use in warmer climates or months.

Knit weighted blankets have excellent breathability due to the large openings in the blanket. From my previous testing experience, I’ve found these are the most breathable. You may also consider removing bedding layers like a comforter or sheets to help prevent overheating if you sleep hot.

Some weighted blankets are spot clean only, others can be machine washed, but most should be air dried—so don't expect to use the blanket the day you wash it. Larger and heavier weighted blankets often must be washed in commercial washers or dry cleaned. If you start with a blanket that's already 13 pounds and throw it in your at home laundry, the added weight of the water can spell disaster.

It may take some time to adjust to using a weighted blanket, so don't feel discouraged if you initially find the blanket uncomfortable. Some folks will find the extra weight unpleasant even after giving their bodies time to adjust. If you try one and find you don't love the sensation, you may want to try a different weight to see if it helps before tossing in the towel—but it comes down to your preferences at the end of the day.

Weighted blankets are thicker and heavier than traditional blankets. If you like to use a weighted blanket while sleeping and for other activities, like watching TV, the size and weight can make it difficult to carry from room to room. They also may not be as easy to store when not in use because of their size. This is especially true of knit options, which use less dense materials than glass beads, and therefore tend to require a greater volume of material, overall, to create a hefty sensation.

Weighted blankets are designed with some heft, but that can also mean it's not as easy to move at night if you’re sleeping under one. If you tend to be an active sleeper, you may want to opt for a lighter weight or skip weighted blankets altogether. It may help to rearrange layers on your bed as well to help prevent bedding from getting crumpled or twisted.

Although the science is on the lighter end as it stands, some adults swear by weighted blankets, saying these humble contraptions help with their anxiety, sleep issues and overall relaxation.

According to Eron, "Weighted blankets are safe for adults with no physical or medical conditions, and effective at reducing anxiety." And as mentioned earlier, Park finds in her practice that patients report better quality sleep after a month of using a weighted blanket. So if you suffer from anxiety, sleep issues or think extra weight might be soothing, you may want to consider a weighted blanket.

However, weighted blankets aren't for everyone. In Eron's research, she's found some people reported finding the blankets uncomfortable and stopped using them.

Our experts also cautioned against using weighted blankets if you have certain medical conditions such as heart problems, asthma, bone conditions and more. This is because weighted blankets place extra weight on the chest when draped over the entire body, which can make breathing more challenging.

But the potential challenges aren't relegated to physical conditions. "Claustrophobic people should not use weighted blankets," Park says. "Weighted blankets may trigger anxiety or flashbacks in individuals who have experienced certain traumatic events. I would advise against the use of weighted blankets in these cases as well," she notes. Our experts also emphasized, adults with a concerns or existing medical conditions should speak with a physician before using a weighted blanket.

There are kid-specific considerations. For kids’ weighted blankets, some manufacturers typically recommend the age or appropriate body weight for use with their blanket, which varies within brands, and depends on the size and weight of the blanket, too.

Peretz recommends children with medical conditions only use weighted blankets during waking hours and while under the supervision of an adult. She does not recommend them for sleeping unless under the direct care and instruction of a pediatrician or occupational therapist.

Weighted blankets, and similar devices, like weighted sleep sacks, should never be used for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it "does not recommend any weighted objects (e.g., weighted blankets/sleepers/swaddles) on or near a sleeping infant."

What Is A Weighted Blanket? What Styles Of Weighted Blanket Are There? Quilted Knit Fabric Fill Why Are Weighted Blankets Popular? What Does The Science Say About Weighted Blankets? How Heavy Should A Weighted Blanket Be? What Are The Downsides Of Weighted Blankets? Heat And Temperature Care Comfort Bulkiness Movement