Weighted blankets, also known as gravity blankets, have been used for years by mental health professionals as a form of pressure therapy, often to relieve anxiety. Today, these blankets have become popular in the mainstream, made with or without their traditional pellet weighting.
The blankets, weighing anywhere from 5 to 30 pounds, are touted as offering benefits for adults who hope to relieve stress or improve sleep. They also calm children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as seniors living in residential care homes.
This article looks at the pros and cons of weighted blankets, given that there is still much debate over whether weighted blankets offer real benefits. It also reviews the specific situations when weighted blankets may not be helpful.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are designed to apply gentle pressure to your body when you are sleeping or curled up snugly. Sometimes called gravity blankets, they are sold in specific sizes and weights.
Most of these blankets are made with plastic pellets, glass beads, or ceramic beads to create the weight within the blanket. Others use alternative fabrics for filling, or you can make them yourself.
What Are the Benefits of a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets work in the same way to reduce anxiety and improve sleep for all users. They may have specific benefits for certain health conditions, but the research remains inconclusive.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The American Psychological Association (APA) surveys people in the United States about their stress each year. The COVID-19 pandemic added to that stress in 2021. The stress levels among respondents included:
- Parents who said they would have liked more emotional support across the year (79%)
- Levels of stress over jobs (also money, health, and other concerns) that continued on (66%)
- People who were so stressed about the pandemic that it interfered with their basic decisions (32%)
There are many reasons for experiencing stress or anxiety, and most people do. Weighted blankets may offer some relief from these symptoms in specific situations, such as among those who experience anxiety with an eating disorder, although it’s not entirely clear that’s true of all people.
Keep in mind that severe symptoms of anxiety or stress may indicate a serious health issue, whether mental or physical. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and seek appropriate care.
The research on weighted blankets often supports its use in specific populations but the evidence is less clear that using them improves the sleep of most people. That was the finding of a systematic literature review of eight studies that evaluated the evidence.
Weighted blankets appeared to relieve anxiety in some people with specific diagnoses, but there was not enough evidence to suggest a benefit in reducing insomnia and improving sleep.
What some experts say is that it may be better to begin by evaluating your overall sleep hygiene, since a weighted blanket is an environmental factor itself. This may involve lifestyle changes that include:
- Limiting alcohol or tobacco use
- Getting enough exercise, but not before bed
- Adjusting the light, noise, or temperature in your sleep space
- Dialing down your screen time before bed
The use of weighted blankets may be a strategy when treating other health conditions, including chronic pain and fibromyalgia. At least one study suggests there may be some benefit to this approach.
In that case, 94 adults with chronic pain from various causes used either 15-pound or 5-pound weighted blankets to see if their use improved their pain symptoms. The respondents then described their feelings of pain intensity, anxiety, and ability to sleep.
Use of the heavier blankets was associated with improved perceptions of chronic pain, particularly among those with higher anxiety levels.
Creates Feeling of Security
Weighted blankets are meant to provide a healing touch through their firm pressure. They’re designed to mimic the sense of swaddling that brings comfort to newborns, or the comforting hug that helps people to feel safe and secure.
The blankets may be a welcome addition for anyone who prefers the sense of weight while sleeping and relaxing. As a general rule, they are safe for healthy adults, older children, and teenagers.
Who May Benefit From a Weighted Blanket?
People diagnosed with certain conditions may benefit from a weighted blanket.
People With Anxiety
Some people who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or who experience anxiety due to another health condition like cancer or a trauma injury, may benefit from weighted blanket use.
For example, a small study involving 24 hospitalized trauma patients found that weighted blankets appeared to improve pain and anxiety, and lower the need for pain medication.
A separate study of 26 healthy young people suggests there may be a link between how much melatonin the body produces, which affects anxiety and sleep, and the use of weighted blankets.
People With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Weighted blankets may help autistic adults and children who experience sensory processing disorders. People with this disorder have difficulty coping with sensory input that includes sounds, light, and movement.
Weighted blankets are one therapeutic strategy that may relieve insomnia and high levels of anxiety associated with this sensory overload. In some cases, they’ve been recommended for years as part of an overall approach to relieving these symptoms.
One study included 37 adults, and 48 children and adolescents, who were diagnosed with either ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.
They used weighted blankets at some point during a four-year window, although in different ways at different times: 78% used them to sleep at night, while 24% used them during the day while reading, watching television, or relaxing.
Of the 85 participants, 59% said the weighted blanket helped them to sleep while 45.8% said that using the blanket appeared to help them in their daily routines.
What About Deep Touch Pressure?
Deep touch pressure is often used in a similar way to weighted blankets to help people with sensory processing difficulties. Some studies suggest a benefit for autistic children, but a 2016 analysis found the research was not robust enough to confirm evidence of this benefit.
People With ADHD
Many children with ADHD have sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling asleep and waking up several times throughout the night. There is some evidence that weighted blankets may prove useful in helping some children with ADHD who have difficulty sleeping.
As in other situations, there is limited evidence from research studies but scientists are learning more. A 2021 study, based on interviews with 24 parents of children who used weighted blankets for 16 weeks, found positive results. The parents said their children:
- Slept better, including the time until they fell asleep and how well they stayed asleep
- Experienced improved well-being, including less anxiety and increased relaxation
- Saw progress in daily activities, including school and home life
Researchers continue to investigate the value of weighted blankets in adults as well, but more study is needed to confirm the benefits of weighted blankets in people living with ADHD.
People Undergoing a Medical Procedure
Weighted blankets also may offer benefits for people who face the anxiety of medical procedures, such as dental care or chemotherapy.
Do Weighted Blankets Actually Work?
The therapeutic benefits of a weighted blanket rely on what’s called pressure therapy. It is a way to enhance the positive feelings of security that gentle but firm pressure often evokes.
This deep pressure stimulation (DPS) is believed to promote your body’s ability to produce serotonin, which helps to regulate mood. It’s a neurotransmitter, a chemical used to transmit signals from nerves to other nerves or cells.
DPS also stimulates the production of melatonin, another neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep. At the same time, the pressure also appears to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
This appears to bring benefits to people with mental health conditions or agitation, as with dementia. But the blankets are also being used to support well-being in college students who experience anxiety, military veterans with sleep disorders, and people with conditions like multiple sclerosis.
Some weighted blanket models are made with metal chain material sewn into them. They’re used to treat insomnia, or the inability to sleep, in people with serious psychiatric conditions. In the Swedish city of Stockholm, some 2,700 blankets are prescribed to treat adults in psychiatric care every year, with research results suggesting a clear benefit.
Research on Weighted Blankets
The research on weighted blankets is focused on how pressure stimulation is helping people with specific disorders, such as adults with anxiety or autistic children. Many studies suggest the blankets actually work with specific benefits, though more research is needed.
Are Weighted Blankets Safe to Use?
There is little risk for most (but not all) people in trying the blankets. Experts say they should be avoided if you have certain conditions including:
Check with your healthcare provider if you have an underlying condition, or if you plan to use the weighted blankets in young children under age 2 (because of the suffocation risk).
In addition, a weighted blanket may also be unsuitable for those people who are claustrophobic, as it may cause anxiety rather than ease it.
How to Choose the Right Weighted Blanket
As a general rule, choose a weighted blanket that is 10% of an adult person’s body weight, according to most manufacturers’ websites. In addition:
- Adults can use medium-to-large weighted blankets ranging from 12 to 30 pounds.
- For a 30- to 70-pound child, a small weighted blanket should weigh from 5 to 8 pounds.
- For a 30- to 130-pound child, a medium-weighted blanket should weigh from 5 to 15 pounds.
Young children should never be left unsupervised with a weighted blanket, particularly those made for an adult.
Weighted blankets are designed to create firm pressure on the body. This may benefit people who have anxiety or stress, as well as other mental or physical health conditions.
They’re often used to care for people with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, but their use is being evaluated in other areas of medical treatment. Among them are people living with chronic pain, cancer patients under treatment with chemotherapy, and seniors living in care facilities.
While there is some evidence that weighted blankets can help people, especially children, there is still limited research that demonstrates a clear benefit to using them. In most cases, there is little risk in trying one if you like. Speak with your healthcare provider, though, if you have a health condition that might make it riskier for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK to use a weighted blanket every night?
Generally, the frequency is a matter of personal preference. You may find you sleep well when using it every night, or that you don’t always need it. If the blanket is your child’s, speak to your pediatrician about what type of blanket you buy and how it should be used.
How do you wash a weighted blanket?
The Sleep Foundation recommends that you machine wash your weighted blanket on a gentle cycle, avoiding bleach or hot water. Most blankets can be machine-dried and fluffed periodically during the dry cycle. Check the specific recommendations of your blanket manufacturer, though.
How heavy should a weighted blanket be?
Your weighted blanket should be about 10% of your body weight, although you may want to go a bit higher or lower. For children, use a lighter-weight product.