Weighted Blankets: Are They the Solution for Insomnia?
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, the answer to this question could significantly change your nightly routine.
If you suffer from insomnia there's a solution available that doesn't involve drugs, supplements, or wacky, alternative solutions. It's a weighted blanket which, as the name suggests, is a blanket with extra weights inside that make it heavier than your typical, everyday blanket. And yes, as simple as it sounds, weighted blankets do work. Read on to find out how this low-tech solution may be just the ticket to end your insomnia for good.
Insomnia: The Nighttime Scourge
It's 2:45 am and, unlike your spouse, your kids, and most of your neighbors, you're still tossing and turning in bed, trying desperately to go to sleep. You've tried melatonin, you've tried cutting back on coffee, and lord knows you've tried counting sheep, but nothing seems to work. You go to bed every night hoping for a few hours of much-needed shuteye but, every morning, you wake up exhausted because your insomnia simply wouldn't let you go.
If that's you, you're not alone. Over a 3rd of the population suffers from insomnia, making it one of the most common health problems adults face. A National Sleep Foundation poll in 2005 found that, among adults, over half reported insomnia in one form or another on multiple nights per week. That includes;
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up multiple times during the night
- Waking up very early and not being able to fall back to sleep
- Waking up feeling exhausted
Men and women seem to experience more or less the same amount of insomnia although, interestingly, the older a person is the less insomnia they experience. Also, people with children experience more insomnia than those without (which, let's be honest, isn't so surprising). In short, insomnia is a huge problem and causes a lot of stress as well as other physical and mental health issues.
What, Exactly, Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are exactly what you would think they are; blankets that are heavier than normal. Most weighted blankets are designed to be either a throw blanket that's placed on top of your regular sheets or a duvet cover. They're either made with heavier materials (think 'moving blanket') or they incorporate some type of stuffing that makes them heavier.
Weighted blankets that use extra, inner stuffing to make them heavier are usually made like a quality down blanket That is, they're manufactured with separate sections sewn in so that the material stays in place. That helps it remain evenly distributed throughout the blanket when you're sleeping. Of course, instead of down feathers, they use something much heavier, including glass beads and/or plastic pellets.
How Do Weighted Blankets Reduce Insomnia?
Surprisingly, occupational therapists have been using weighted blankets for quite a few years to help their patients fall asleep. The reason is simple; the extra pressure of the blanket on top of them gives the patient a tactile sensation of being held. This is a very calming and soothing sensation, which helps to calm their minds and allows them to not only fall asleep faster but also stay asleep longer.
Some liken the feeling of sleeping with a weighted blanket to getting a long, deep hug or a deep, full-body massage. It's very comforting and soothing and, afterward, you feel incredibly relaxed and sleepy.
Scientists Agree that Weighted Blankets Work
Scientists have long been aware that anything that can make a person feel more comfortable will help them to fall asleep. For example, in 2015 a study was conducted by the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. They were looking for a simple, drug-free, and inexpensive way to treat insomnia and reduce the negative health effects it causes.
The scientists conducting the study purchased commercially available weighted blankets that were, at the time, intended for use on the elderly. Those blankets had small-link metal chains evenly distributed throughout, allowing them to put constant and equal pressure on their test subjects. The test subjects themselves were all people who suffered from long-term insomnia. Anyone with other health problems that could cause insomnia (sleep apnea, high blood pressure, etc.) was excluded.
The results were excellent, to say the least;
- The test subjects' length of sleep significantly increased
- The time needed to fall asleep was significantly reduced
- Waking during the night was significantly reduced
- Quality of sleep was judged to be much better
The study concluded that weighted blankets were indeed effective in reducing insomnia. They also found that due to the deep pressure and constant sensory input of the weighted blankets, there was a significant reduction in physiological arousal (being woken up by movement). In other words, the test subjects moved less during the night because of the extra weight, which helped them to stay asleep through the night.
What Else Does Science Say about Weighted Blankets?
There has been quite a bit of research into weighted blankets over the last few years and the results have been very favorable indeed. For example, the compression weighted blankets provide has been shown to cause the human body to produce more of the neurotransmitters dopamine (the so-called 'happy hormone') and serotonin (a mood-regulating hormone). Both of these natural chemicals then help the body to produce the one chemical that helps people sleep the most; melatonin.
Melatonin, also known as the 'sleep hormone', usually rises sharply at night after the sun goes down. (Some refer to it as the 'Dracula of hormones' because of this.) In most people, the extra melatonin will cause them to feel sleepy the later it gets. However, some don't produce enough for various reasons which can lead to insomnia. The good news, as we already mentioned, is that the extra weight of a weighted blanket will cause the body to produce more melatonin and thus help you sleep better if you're suffering from insomnia.
Weighted Blankets Help Reduce Restless Leg Syndrome
Many people that suffer insomnia also suffer from a condition called restless leg syndrome. This is characterized by an overpowering urge to keep your legs moving. For people who have it, the condition usually occurs when they're trying to sleep. (It’s also known by the scientific term Willis-Ekbom disease.) About 10% of the population in the United States suffer from restless leg syndrome and those who do usually suffer from insomnia as well.
Weighted blankets have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of restless leg syndrome. The extra weight and pressure that the blankets put on the legs are considered to be the reason why. Researchers say that it is comforting and reduces the feelings of itching, crawling, pulling, aching, throbbing, or pins and needles that restless leg syndrome causes. It also reduces the powerful feeling of needing to move your legs to make those sensations go away.
Read more on Weighted Blankets for RLS.
Does a Weighted Blanket Pose any Health Risks?
For otherwise healthy adults the answer to this question is a definite no. All the research shows that weighted blankets are very safe. Much safer than, for example, many of the medicines and supplements that some people use to combat their insomnia.
That being said, there are a few situations and conditions where a weighted blanket should not be used due to the risk it might pose. They include;
- People with obstructive sleep apnea. This condition causes disrupted breathing and, in some cases, cessation of breathing. The extra weight of a weighted blanket is not recommended.
- People who suffer from asthma. Asthma causes difficulty breathing during the day and at night. The extra weight of a weighted blanket is not recommended.
- Claustrophobia. This is a fear of small or enclosed places. A weighted blanket may trigger this condition.
- Toddlers under 2 years of age. A weighted blanket could cause them to suffocate when sleeping.
Do Weighted Blankets Work? Yes, they Do!
There's overwhelming evidence to show that, yes, weighted blankets do work! They do help people with insomnia to sleep better, longer, and more soundly. They're also safe, easy to use, reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, make you feel comfortable and secure and, most of all, help you sleep like a baby.