A weighted blanket is a blanket with extra weights in it. These weights range from 2 to 15 kilograms and often consist of polystyrene granules, sand, or plastic. Weighted blankets have been used in mental health care for years as a form of pressure therapy, but the use of the blankets is expanding today: weighted blankets are said to relieve stress, improve sleep, calm children with ADHD, and help treat anxiety disorders.

How does a weighted blanket work?

The science behind the use of a weighting blanket is that deep pressure stimulation (DPS) puts pressure on certain parts of the body, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The nervous system naturally responds to stressful situations by instilling its sympathetic or “alert” state, which can cause anxiety and stress. The parasympathetic system counterbalances this sympathetic activation.

DPS and weighting blankets can therefore stimulate the parasympathetic response. When the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a sense of calm can occur, as many of the body’s autonomic functions slow down. There are also psychological calming effects associated with it, similar to the feeling you get when you lie cozily in bed on a cold winter night.

Who should use a weighted blanket?

While more research is needed, preliminary results indicate that weighted blankets help treat the following conditions:

  • General anxiety: Some studies show that using weighted blankets at night can help lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can contribute to anxiety.
  • Anxiety with certain medical procedures: Medical interventions are often accompanied by anxiety symptoms, such as an increased heart rate. Weighted blankets can relieve these symptoms.
  • Insomnia: Weighted blankets are said to have an influence on a number of physiological and behavioral factors, thus having a positive effect on insomnia.
  • Sleep problems in children with ADHD: A weighting blanket would shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and would reduce the number of times the child wakes up during the night.
  • Sensory processing disorder: Individuals with this disorder have difficulty processing sensory information such as textures, sounds, smells, tastes, clarity, and movement. Weighted blankets can help you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Safety and risks of weighted blankets

As a general rule, the weight of a weighted blanket should be 10% of the bodyweight of an adult person.

Weighted blankets are safe for healthy adults, older children, and teens. However, they should not be used for toddlers under 2 years of age, as the blankets pose a choking risk. This danger also exists in older children with developmental disorders.

Furthermore, the use of weighted blankets is not recommended for people with certain health problems, especially in chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, a weighted blanket may be unsuitable for people with claustrophobia, as it can cause anxiety rather than relieve it.

Jenny Zhang

Jenny holds a Master's degree in psychiatry from the University of Illinois and Bachelors's degree from the University of Texas in nutritional sciences. She works as a dietician for Austin Oaks Hospital in Austin, Texas. Jenney writes content on nutrition and mental health for the Scientific Origin.