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Mar 15, 2022
6 min read

Weighted blankets for anxiety: do they work?

Weighted blankets are typically filled with plastic or glass pellets or beads, so they weigh more than regular blankets (usually around 5–30 pounds). They can be a helpful tool for quelling stress and are often used to help people with anxiety, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or sleep problems.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Weighted blankets are heavier than typical quilts or down blankets. They come in varying weights, ranging from around 5–30 pounds, and many people find that they help induce a feeling of calm. 

There is some research showing that using a weighted blanket along with traditional therapy may help alleviate anxiety and induce relaxation, which may be helpful for people with anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), or sleep problems—but even people without an underlying condition may find that using a weighted blanket gives them a better night’s sleep. 

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Benefits of weighted blankets for anxiety

Weighted blankets seem to mimic the effects of deep touch pressure therapy, a technique therapists have used for decades to help people with sensory processing disorders (SPDs). 

People with SPDs, many of whom are on the autism spectrum, may react differently to stimulation like sound or touch than someone who doesn’t have an SPD. Weighted blankets are sometimes used as a part of deep touch pressure therapy but have also gained traction among people without a diagnosis of SPD thanks to their calming effects. 

While the research into whether weighted blankets will alleviate anxiety is somewhat sparse, they’re a safe option to try on your own to see if they work for you. 

One small study asked 32 volunteers to try a weighted blanket. Six out of 10 participants said they felt less anxious, and nearly eight out of 10 said they preferred a weighted blanket to a regular one (Mullen, 2008). 

Another small study of people receiving mental health treatment at a hospital showed that two-thirds of participants felt like they had less anxiety after using a 30-pound weighted blanket (Champagne, 2015).

Weighted blankets may help people with other health conditions, as well:

  • Chronic pain: In a study of people with chronic pain, participants who used a 15-pound blanket said they felt less chronic pain than those who used a lighter 5-pound blanket while they slept. These effects were even more pronounced in people with high anxiety levels (Baumgartner, 2022). 
  • Cancer: Another study evaluated the effects of weighted blankets among people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Those who used a weighted blanket during their chemotherapy infusions experienced less anxiety (Vinson, 2020). 
  • ADHD: Studies suggest that weighted blankets may help children with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) sleep better at night (Bolic Baric, 2021).

How do weighted blankets work for anxiety?

Why weighted blankets help some people isn’t immediately clear, but there are some theories.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a scientist who studies animal behavior and who herself has autism spectrum disorder, published a book in the 1990s where she described her struggles with autism and the sense of calm she derived from using a device she called a hug box, squeeze box, or squeeze machine.

While living on her aunt’s farm, she noticed that cattle being herded into a dark barn for inoculations were agitated, but they immediately calmed down when restrained using a device that would “hug” them during their shots. So, she devised a similar device for herself and spent time in it whenever she felt the sensory overload common among people with ASD. 

Her invention has since been renamed the Temple Grandin Hug Machine and is employed in treatment centers and schools to help people with autism as a tool for providing deep-pressure treatment (Grandin, 1992).

Much like Temple Grandin’s invention, weighted blankets provide a sense of deep-pressure stimulation across your entire body, creating a calming and relaxing effect (Gee, 2020). Occupational therapists use them to help their patients calm down, both physically and emotionally (Eron, 2020).

How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

Aiming for a blanket that weighs around 10% of your body weight is a good place to start, but some people find that a little bit of trial and error is necessary to find the right blanket for them.

Fortunately, there are many weight variations, and weighted blankets are readily available online and in stores. Pick one that’s machine washable and made from breathable materials, especially if you are a hot sleeper.

Weighted blankets, anxiety, and sleep

Overall, the evidence regarding the effectiveness of weighted blankets for anxiety and insomnia isn’t robust. But it’s safe to say that a good night’s sleep is important for everyone, perhaps even more so if you have anxiety. Anxiety and sleep are sort of like a chicken-and-egg situation: anxiety disturbs your ability to sleep well, and tossing and turning can worsen your anxiety (Cox, 2016).

But, even for people without anxiety, trouble sleeping is common, with four in ten Americans reporting trouble falling asleep at least a few times a month. Various things can interfere with a person’s ability to sleep, from their health to their bedroom setup. However, bedtime rumination, or worrying at bedtime, is a significant contributor to lost shut-eye (Scullin, 2018).

When people have better control over their anxiety symptoms, they have an easier time falling asleep (Gould, 2016). Does it follow, then, that if a weighted blanket reduces anxiety symptoms at night, it could also help people fall asleep? 

Not so fast, researchers say. While the current research suggests that weighted blankets may help reduce anxiety, there is not yet enough evidence they could be helpful for insomnia (Eron, 2020).

A recent study did find, however, that the use of weighted blankets for four weeks enabled people with major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or ADHD to enjoy more uninterrupted sleep and improved daytime symptoms. They were more active during the day and felt less fatigue, depression, and anxiety. When researchers followed up a year later, participants who continued to use weighted blankets were still enjoying better sleep (Ekholm, 2020).

The early research suggests that weighted blankets can complement other therapies for relieving anxiety (Eron, 2020). However, they are not replacements for better sleep hygiene or mental health treatment. 

Tips for sleeping better with anxiety

If you think a weighted blanket may be beneficial, go ahead and try one. But, you may enjoy more restful sleep simply by practicing better sleep hygiene overall. 

Good sleep hygiene describes a set of healthy behaviors around sleep, similar to how brushing and flossing your teeth is part of good dental hygiene. Try these tips (Yazdi, 2016):

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule every day, aiming to get at least seven hours of sleep. 
  • Make your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable.
  • Avoid using your bedroom for anything besides sleep and sex.
  • Avoid naps during the day.
  • Limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake, especially past the afternoon.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or thirsty, but avoid eating anything too heavy close to bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulating activities two hours before bedtime, such as high-intensity exercise or watching a horror movie.

If your anxiety is ongoing and it’s making it difficult for you to function daily, it’s a good idea to speak with a mental health professional about what treatment options might help. Weighted blankets can be an add-on option to traditional therapy and medications but aren’t a treatment on their own for severe anxiety.

References

  1. Baumgartner, J. N., Quintana, D., Leija, L., et al. (2022). Widespread pressure delivered by a weighted blanket reduces chronic pain: A randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Pain, 23(1), 156–174. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2021.07.009. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34425251/
  2. Bolic Baric, V., Skuthälla, S., Pettersson, M., et al. (2021). The effectiveness of weighted blankets on sleep and everyday activities – A retrospective follow-up study of children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or autism spectrum disorder. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1–11. doi:10.1080/11038128.2021.1939414. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34184958/
  3. Champagne, T., Mullen, B., Dickson, D., et al. (2015). Evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the weighted blanket with adults during an inpatient mental health hospitalization. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 31(3), 211–233. doi:10.1080/0164212x.2015.1066220. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0164212X.2015.1066220
  4. Cox, R. C. & Olatunji, B. O. (2016). A systematic review of sleep disturbance in anxiety and related disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 37, 104–129. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2015.12.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26745517/
  5. Ekholm, B., Spulber, S., & Adler, M. (2020). A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 16(9), 1567–1577. doi:10.5664/jcsm.8636. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32536366/
  6. Eron, K., Kohnert, L., Watters, A., et al. (2020). Weighted blanket use: A systematic Review. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(2), 7402205010p1–7402205010p14. doi:10.5014/ajot.2020.037358. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32204779/
  7. Gee, B. M., Lloyd, K., Sutton, J., et al. (2020). Weighted blankets and sleep quality in children with autism spectrum disorders: A single-subject design. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 8(1), 10. doi:10.3390/children8010010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33375406/
  8. Ghaly, M. & Teplitz, D. (2004). The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 10(5), 767–776. doi:10.1089/acm.2004.10.767. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15650465/
  9. Gould, C. E., Beaudreau, S. A., O’Hara, R., et al. (2016). Perceived anxiety control is associated with sleep disturbance in young and older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 20(8), 856–860. doi:10.1080/13607863.2015.1043617. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26023761/
  10. Grandin, T. (1992). Calming effects of deep touch pressure in patients with autistic disorder, college students, and animals. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 2(1), 63–72. doi:10.1089/cap.1992.2.63. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19630623/
  11. Gringras, P., Green, D., Wright, B., et al. (2014). Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children–a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 134(2), 298–306. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-4285. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25022743/
  12. Mullen, B., Champagne, T., Krishnamurty, S., et al. (2008). Exploring the safety and therapeutic effects of deep pressure stimulation using a weighted blanket. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 24(1), 65–89. doi:10.1300/j004v24n01_05. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1300/J004v24n01_05 
  13. ​​Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., et al. (2018). The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 147(1), 139–146. doi:10.1037/xge0000374. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29058942/ 
  14. Vinson, J., Powers, J., & Mosesso, K. (2020). Weighted blankets: Anxiety reduction in adult patients receiving chemotherapy. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 24(4), 360–368. doi:10.1188/20.CJON.360-368. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32678376/ 
  15. Yazdi, Z., Loukzadeh, Z., Moghaddam, P., et al. (2016). Sleep hygiene practices and their relation to sleep quality in medical students of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences. Journal of Caring Sciences, 5(2), 153–160. doi:10.15171/jcs.2016.016. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27354979/