It's no surprise that many people now use a weighted blanket for anxiety. We’ve all been living through a stressful time in history with many of us turning to them to help them keep anxiety and stress at bay, especially when trying to sleep.
Weighted blankets have been known to help relieve anxiety symptoms, with the heavy material creating a sensory calming feel as we fall asleep. However, anxiety is a complicated emotion, and some professionals believe that, even though one of the best weighted blankets can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, it can’t cure them fully. Here, we’ll explore the benefits of a weighted blanket for anxiety and if it can help you achieve calming, restful sleep.
And for more ways to help you achieve better sleep, you can find other useful guides at TechRadar including the best mattresses and the best sleep earplugs.
What is a weighted blanket?
A weighted blanket is a heavy blanket which has therapeutic qualities and is intended to calm you and allow you to fall asleep quickly. The blanket is designed to be heavier than a normal blanket and to make you feel as though you are being hugged. Many people who suffer with anxiety also have sleep problems, and while there are solutions available that can help, such as white noise machines (opens in new tab) and even some sleep apps (opens in new tab), a weighted blanket helps to ease some of the symptoms associated with both poor sleep and insomnia, including an elevated heart rate, restless leg syndrome and anxiety.
Jon Manning, founder of mental health support service Arthur Ellis explains what anxiety is and why some of us suffer from it: "Anxiety is an emotion we all have, it’s essential for us and helps towards protecting us from harm. Anxiety helps us identify risks in different unknown situations, which is literally the definition. Anxiety is defined as that worry or nervousness around uncertain events in the future."
Therapists have used weighted blankets, in a professional capacity, for several years and they’ve become more mainstream in the last few years especially. However, not all weighted blankets are the same, with most being made with either cotton or linen, but some from flannel or bamboo. The filling inside that makes them heavier than most blankets, is normally made from micro glass beads, but it can also be sand or plastic poly pellets - so it’s worth doing your homework to see which one you feel most comfortable with.
But somebody else’s ideal weighted blanket may not be quite right for you, and this is down to the weight. The perfect weight can be determined by figuring out what 10 percent of your body weight is - as this will be the perfect weight for you. However, most weighted blankets start from 5.5kg and go up to around 10kg.
Should I get a weighted blanket for anxiety?
Research from Occupational Therapy in Mental Health (opens in new tab) shows that, after various trials, the use of weighted blankets can result in anxiety levels decreasing. But how do weighted blankets help anxiety?
Suzanne Guest (opens in new tab), registered occupational psychologist revealed to TechRadar: "We don’t fully understand how weighted blankets work, but some people will report that it feels like they are being held and other people like the sensation of weight on their body. One theory is that it gives proprioceptive input. Proprioception is being aware of where our body is in space. The feeling of having weight on us can feel comforting.
"Sometimes people with anxiety or people on the autistic spectrum can have difficulty with being touched by people and so a weighted blanket can give comfort," Guest adds.
A weighted blanket can also be good for those with anxiety as it helps to raise serotonin levels. "Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential for all of us. It’s released primarily to help stabilize our moods. If we have good serotonin levels, we are going to be much better equipped to deal with those difficulties we sometimes come up against in life," Manning explained to TechRadar.
"It has been shown in some studies that weighted blankets do promote the release of serotonin, however, this needs to be alongside a few other things that help too. Serotonin is mainly found in the hippocampus area of the brain which is responsible for regulating our emotions, amongst other functions.
Manning goes on to say that the hippocampus is similar to the liver, as it regenerates itself: "When it regenerates, it does it through a process called neurogenesis which helps the hippocampus be healthy enough to release that all important serotonin. Neurogenesis is stimulated mainly by exercise, sunlight and healthy foods."
Once we are getting those three things, Manning said that the hippocampus is ready for devices such as the weighted blanket, so it can pump out serotonin. "Bringing our attention to the present moment through those focus activities including using our blankets can also reduce cortisol release, the stress hormone and at the same time release dopamine, the happy hormone."
If you suffer from insomnia, is a weighted blanket right for you? A 2015 study by the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg (opens in new tab), Sweden, found that participants who had insomnia, but used weighted blankets as part of the study, slept for longer and also had better quality sleep (opens in new tab).
Guest agreed: "If somebody is feeling particularly anxious, they will be experiencing an increase of adrenaline. Adrenaline prepares the body for flat fight or flight and makes the heart race and can make us feel twitchy as we are preparing our body to run to get out of danger. A weighted blanket can have a calming input on the body and so this will in turn reduce the heart rate and help alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety."
Both experts do state, however, that even though a weighted blanket can be a way of relieving symptoms in the short term it can’t be a cure for anxiety, as this will only be relieved by addressing the issue that is causing the anxiety.
"Long-term, it would be prudent to address issues around anxiety and also develop strategies to manage anxiety provoking situations, this would be done with a therapist who can educate the individual about anxiety and its impact on the body and also thought processes," said Guest.