Weighted blankets: why are they in the news so often?

I have received many requests to weigh in on (excuse the pun) weighted blankets over the past few months, so I wanted to write a blog post about these blankets in the style of an interview.

Why are weighted blankets so popular these days? How do weighted blankets work? Weighted blankets are popular because lying under them provides pressure that can feel very calming. Many people do like the feeling of pressure against their body and do find this pressure to be quite relaxing (think about the last time you received a massage or got a hug, or consider the fact that many parents swaddle their babies to improve their sleep). Many of us often relax on the sofa under a quilt or blanket when reading or watching a movie so lying under a heavy blanket can, indeed, be very soothing.

Who would benefit from using a weighted blanket?
These blankets are usually targeted to adults with insomnia who hope that these blankets will improve their sleep. They are also targeted to adults with anxiety, PTSD, or dementia.

They are also targeted to parents who hope they will help their children fall asleep more easily and wake less during the night and early morning. In addition, parents of children with ADHD or of children on the autism spectrum sometimes try these for their children.

Do you think weighted blankets are effective? Why or why not?
There is not a large body of research proving that weighted blankets actually improve sleep. The best types of studies are those that have a control group and that are replicable (meaning that other scientists who do the same study will have similar findings) and studies like these do not exist for weighted blankets. Neither the American Academy of Sleep Medicine nor the American Academy of Pediatrics has formally weighed in on them. Having gotten these points out of the way, weighted blankets can absolutely be a calming, comforting addition to someone’s bedroom.

What are the cons?
There are some cons to weighted blankets.
–        They can be expensive, although there are online tutorials available if someone would like to try making a weighted blanket instead of purchasing one.
–        They can be hot to sleep under and they can be heavy and hard to transport if a person needs to sleep away from home for any reason, especially if traveling by air.
–        They can become so strongly associated falling asleep that a person might eventually have a hard time falling asleep without the weighted blanket. (This is similar to how some people fall asleep with the TV on each night and soon have trouble falling asleep without it.) This can be a problem because of the issues just mentioned (hot, heavy,  and hard to transport).

It is often a good idea for a person who is considering purchasing one to try sleeping under a pile of blankets or quilts first to make sure they like the sensation.

Are there people for whom weighted blankets are NOT recommended?
Weighted blankets are not recommended for adults with respiratory, circulatory or temperature-regulation problems.

Weighted blankets are not recommended for very young children because they can be too heavy; if a parent does want their child to try one, it will be important to make sure the proper weight is being used and to check with their child’s pediatrician before using one.

It’s also important to make sure that the child can cover themselves with the blanket independently at bedtime and can put it back independently, too, if it slides off of the bed at night. These blankets are prone to sliding off of the bed if the child is a restless sleeper. If a child cannot do this independently, a parent will have to come back to the child’s bedroom at night to do this.

If a parent did want to find out whether a feeling of pressure improves their child’s sleep, there is an alternative to a weighted blanket: a stretchy spandex bed wrap. These fit over the entire mattress like a giant sock and provide pressure from compression rather than from weight. These are easier to wash and transport, too, because they are so light.

Do you have advice for choosing a weighted blanket? Are there any qualities customers should be looking for?
I wouldn’t want to recommend any specific brands but a weighted blanket should weigh about ten percent of the person’s body weight (so a 150 pound person would use a fifteen pound blanket), and it is useful to choose one with a washable cover since the blanket itself is usually not washable. And remember that a stretchy spandex bed wrap may work just as well and is much easier to wash and transport, too, because it is so light.

Is there anything else else you’d like to say about weighted blankets?
Many people are interested in weighted blankets because they are seeking a solution for their insomnia. However, weighted blankets are unlikely to be the “magic bullet” for someone with insomnia. There is, however, an incredibly effective solution for people with chronic insomnia called cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This type of therapy does have solid research behind it with hundreds of studies proving its effectiveness. CBT-I should be the first thing a person with insomnia tries. A person can seek out a provider of CBT-I by contacting any accredited sleep center and there are also some good online options. One such option is CBT-i Coach, a free app that was developed by the VA’s National Center for PTSD, the Stanford School of Medicine and the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology.

Many parents are interested in weighted blankets for their children because their children are poor sleepers. However, weighted blankets are usually not the solution for this issue either. Parents sometimes do two things at bedtime that can result in their children being poor sleepers:
–        staying with their child until he or she is completely asleep (rather than helping their child learn to fall asleep independently at the end of a cozy, comforting and consistent routine). If a parent stays too long, the child often needs parental assistance during the night to get back to sleep after an awakening.
–        granting too many extra requests after lights out with the hope that once their child has everything they need, he or she will finally fall asleep. Rather than this being the case, granting these extra requests actually encourages a child to stay awake and can make the bedtime routine last a loooong time!

There are easy ways to address the two things so that a child can become a better sleeper. That’s why I wrote my book, Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach: The Bedtime Doctor’s 5-Step Guide, Ages 3-10. 

Grab a copy and let me know what you think!


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