For the past few months, I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisements for weighted blankets. Typically, I’m quite skeptical about new health products of this kind that flood the market with strong promotions, often accompanied by lofty claims about their “natural” benefits.
For once, however, my initial thoughts were somewhat positive, or let’s say, neutral, about these weighted blankets. Without delving too deeply into the subject, the underlying principle seemed potentially plausible to me, as long as one didn’t expect them to be a fail-safe treatment for insomnia.
So, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the topic. For myself, for my patients (I’m a physiotherapist), and for my readers!
As usual, I started by looking into whether there were any high-quality clinical studies that aimed to evaluate their effectiveness (benefits VS side-effects). And if so, what parameters were they assessing? Were these studies conducted on adults or babies?
Furthermore, does the theoretical mechanism of action align with what we currently know about sleep? What do doctors and other healthcare professionals think, preferably with as few conflicts of interest as possible?
Finally, what do users think? Should we trust the effusive (or, on the contrary, disastrous) reviews often found on the internet? What about the arguments put forth by those who manufacture and market these blankets? Is There Any Science Behind Weighted Blankets?
You should find the answers to these questions in my article. If you have any questions or comments, the comment section is the place for that!
Happy reading 🙂!
Last update: October 2023
Disclaimer: Affiliate links. Complete disclosure in legal notices. Written by Nelly Darbois, physical therapist and scientific writer
What is a weighted blanket?
Let’s first clarify what we are talking about in this article: let’s all agree on what we mean by a “weighted blanket”!
First of all, “weighted blanket” is the most commonly used name. However, the same type of product goes by various other names. Here’s a list of names that refer to the same product:
- Weighted blanket
- Heavy blanket
- Ponderous blanket
- Weighted throw
- Therapeutic blankets
- Gravity blanket.
Weighted blankets are known by different names, including heavy, ponderous, and more. It’s the same device!
Since When Have Weighted Blankets Existed?
Weighted blankets, under this name, did not exist for very long, in my opinion, when I wrote this article in 2023. I had only heard about them for a few years, I would say less than 5 years.
However, the first academic publications (by scientists) about them date back to the 2010s:
However, there were discussions about them on the internet even before. For instance, there was already this book published for the first time in 2009 about weighted blankets for individuals with autism or chronic pain:
I even found in internet archives some brands that were marketing weighted blankets since the 1970s…!
As evidence, this article from The New York Times dated January 27, 1973, with the headline:
“Target Recalls Over 200,000 Children’s Weighted Blankets After 2 Girls Die.”
I’ll have the opportunity to discuss further in the article the use of weighted blankets in babies and children and the associated risks.
It’s probably possible to find evidence of the use of weighted blankets even earlier with more in-depth research.
Weighted blankets were already being marketed in the 1970s! However, the (few) scientific publications on them date back to the 2010s.
How weighted blankets works in theory?
A weighted blanket is simply a blanket (or throw, comforter) that is much heavier than a regular blanket.
They can come in different weights, and it’s recommended to choose one based on your own weight: a person weighing 55 kg will not use a blanket of the same weight as someone weighing 120 kg.
Generally, it’s suggested to choose a blanket that is 10% of your body weight. That would be:
- 6 kg for someone weighing 60 kg.
- 12 kg for someone weighing 120 kg.
When you place a weighted blanket on yourself, according to manufacturers:
- Pressure is applied to your body. This is sometimes referred to as deep touch pressure.
- Thanks to receptors on your skin, your brain perceives this sensation (referred to as a hugging sensation).
- Your brain then releases hormones that promote well-being and sleep, such as serotonin, oxytocin, and melatonin. It also reduces the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.
- This improves well-being and sleep.
The idea, of course, is to sleep with this blanket throughout the night (even in the middle of summer) to experience its beneficial effects. And it should cover a sufficient part of your body (if it’s only on your feet, it’s logical to think that it won’t have the same effect as if it were spread from your feet to your neck!).
This is how manufacturers present the mechanism of action of weighted blankets. We will see if the research teams that have sought to evaluate the effects of weighted blankets validate this theoretical mechanism (which seems coherent at first glance) or not.
But before that, let’s take a look at what users, doctors, and other healthcare professionals, as well as manufacturers, have to say about the benefits (and drawbacks) of these blankets.
In theory, sleeping with a weighted blanket leads our brain to produce more hormones beneficial to sleep and well-being than if we were sleeping without it.
User and Medical Professional Reviews on Weighted Blankets
Many people (myself included!) like to rely on the opinions and testimonials of friends, family, or even strangers to assess the quality and usefulness of a healthcare product. Or on the opinions of doctors and healthcare professionals.
This has its limits (I discuss it further in the section dedicated to studies on weighted blankets). Nevertheless, it’s hard to do without!
So, I’ll say a few words about it.
Online Reviews on Weighted Blankets
You probably know as well as I do: you can find all kinds of opinions about a healthcare product on the internet. My usual approach is to check the ratio of negative to positive reviews on a non-company retail site.
And to look at the most common negative comments: are the issues raised likely to bother me? For example, if it’s a delivery problem and a damaged box, it’s not very problematic for me.
Here is a selection of reviews on weighted blankets:
In my opinion, it’s difficult to rely on reviews, even potentially independent ones, to form an opinion on this product.
Why? For at least these reasons:
- We are rarely certain if these are genuine reviews.
- We don’t know how long the blankets were used, and if the review was posted quickly, while later the blankets worked less well (or better?).
- We don’t know if people implemented other sleep-improvement measures at the same time.
- We don’t know if sleep improved naturally on its own. Because sleep, anxiety, or pain are phenomena that fluctuate regardless of what we do. Sometimes, we use something precisely at the worst moment, when it can only get better… no matter what we do!
Medical opinions on Weighted Blankets
Do the opinions of the medical and paramedical or scientific community provide us with more substantial claims?
It is difficult to find objective, independent, and well-argued opinions from doctors.
When you browse the websites of brands that sell weighted blankets, you often come across pages dedicated to “expert opinions” or “doctor’s opinions.”
Most of the time, these are the opinions of a few professionals (and therefore not THE opinions of doctors, but of ONE or SEVERAL doctors).
Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that these opinions have been selected: the brand will not highlight negative opinions, even if they exist.
Here’s an example:
Many brands also pay professionals to publicly review their products.
User reviews (both positive and negative) are abundant. Reviews from doctors and specialists are rarer and are often selected by the brands that sell these blankets.
Are there clinical studies evaluating the effects of weighted blankets?
In my opinion, it’s important to consider the opinions of people who have evaluated the effects of weighted blankets not only on themselves or a few patients but on the widest possible range of people.
Moreover, it’s crucial that they have implemented measures to control the effects of these blankets compared to other factors that could also produce similar positive or negative effects, such as seasonal or lifestyle changes, mattress changes, sleep environment, etc.
And this information comes from studies published in scientific journals where the quality of each article is peer-reviewed. It’s not perfect (there are plenty of flaws in the publication system), but it’s, in my opinion, the most reliable source we have.
This is especially true when the people writing or publishing the articles have no financial conflicts of interest related to the subject.
Good news: there are some scientific publications available on weighted blankets! Around thirty as of my writing.
I’ve read or browsed them all for the purpose of this article. I’ll present them to you in a summarized manner, and you can find all their references at the end of the article.
My goal here is to provide you with an overall view, without emphasizing those that promote the benefits more, as commercial websites tend to do. I will focus more on the ones of higher quality and reliability.
Weighted blanket good for anxiety?
There is indeed a scientific publication that assesses all studies evaluating the effect of weighted blankets on anxiety. It dates back to 2020. Here are its conclusions:
Studies regarding the effectiveness of weighted blankets in reducing anxiety are scarce. However, they may be useful in reducing anxiety in specific contexts and for specific populations.Eron 2020
Here are the studies published since 2020 on the effects of weighted blankets on anxiety:
|Individuals undergoing chemotherapy, using the blanket only during the product delivery (not overnight during sleep)||Anxiety was reduced in individuals covered by the weighted blanket compared to when they did not have it.||Vinson 2020|
|Patients hospitalized for psychiatric disorders, but not psychotic at the time of blanket use. The blanket was worn for only 20 minutes!||The use of weighted blankets is a safe and potentially effective means to help individuals in a psychiatric facility manage their anxiety. This study revealed a statistically significant reduction in anxiety. It suggests a possible alternative to medications, isolation, and physical restraint, which are not patient-centered or trauma-informed.||Becklund 2021|
|Children undergoing dental care under moderate sedation, so the blanket was not worn during sleep.||The use of weighted blankets was associated with a reduced need for restraint in children.||McBeain 2022|
|Effects on individuals presenting at the emergency department with psychiatric histories. Blanket worn for 15 or 30 minutes.||The small sample size in this study did not allow for differences between groups in anxiety or anger scores to be considered a significant outcome.||Dickson 2021|
You’ve seen it for yourself: the effectiveness of weighted blankets on anxiety is not really tested on most people who use them (people without specific health issues versus people with health problems), nor in usual conditions (all night versus a few minutes occasionally).
Anxiety is a complex, fluctuating phenomenon that depends heavily on the environment.
Therefore, I don’t really believe in the potential effect of these blankets on anxiety in the general population, outside of specific healthcare or health conditions.
Benefits of sleeping with a weighted blanket?
As for weighted blankets improving sleep, there is also a scientific publication that evaluates all studies assessing the effects of weighted blankets on insomnia and sleep disorders. It’s still the same publication from 2020. Here’s its conclusion on this subject:
Studies on the effectiveness of weighted blankets in reducing insomnia are rare. There is not enough evidence to suggest that they would be effective against insomnia.Eron 2020
Since its publication, there have been a few other studies on the topic. I have selected only the most relevant ones. The ones not included were studies on a single person or a small group of people without a control group.
For example, there was a study on three people with advanced dementia who were given a weighted blanket for a few minutes in an attempt to reduce their vocalizations (Dyon 2021).
|People consulting occupational therapists in a Swedish region, mostly with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, anxiety, autism, depression, dementia/cognitive disorders||Prescribing a weighted blanket was more expensive than prescribing sleep medications, and personnel costs were the main factor contributing to these cost differences. The effectiveness of the blankets was not evaluated.||Odeus 2022|
|Young adults without health problems||Determine if using a weighted blanket (~12% of body weight) at bedtime resulted in higher salivary concentrations of melatonin and oxytocin compared to a light blanket (~2.4% of body weight). When using a weighted blanket, the increase in melatonin salivary concentration from baseline (i.e., 10:00 PM) to lights-off (i.e., 11:00 PM) was approximately 32% higher (p = 0.011). No other significant differences were observed (subjective sleepiness, total sleep time, oxytocin, cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase activity).||Meth 2022|
|Swedish adults with psychiatric pathology||Statistically significant association between the use of weighted blankets and a decrease in the use of common sleep medications, except for melatonin, which slightly increased.||Steingrimsson 2022|
|Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders||Clinicians should note that there is currently no evidence to support the systematic use of weighted blankets or specialized mattresses to improve disrupted sleep. If asked about weighted blankets, clinicians should note that the trial reported no serious adverse effects associated with their use, and they may represent a reasonable non-pharmacological approach for some individuals.||Bucklet 2020|
|Children with autism spectrum disorders||The use of a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep longer, fall asleep much faster, or wake up less often. However, children and parents preferred the weighted blanket (compared to a regular blanket), and the blankets were well-tolerated during this period.||Gringras 2014|
|Adults with psychiatric disorders (bipolarity, severe depression, generalized anxiety disorder, attention disorders)||The intervention with the weighted blanket resulted in a significant improvement in sleep, higher daytime activity levels, and a reduction in daytime symptoms of fatigue, depression, and anxiety. No serious adverse events occurred. During a 12-month open follow-up phase of the study, participants who continued to use weighted blankets maintained the sleep effect, while patients who switched from a light blanket to a weighted one experienced an effect on insomnia severity index ratings similar to those of participants using the weighted blanket from the beginning.||Ekholm 2020|
On some websites selling weighted blankets, you can find the following statements:
However, this Swedish study exclusively pertains to individuals with significant psychiatric disorders. It is also a standalone study, and these statements should, in my opinion, be more measured.
- Moreover, when examining which hormones are secreted when using a weighted blanket…
- Not all the hormones described by the manufacturers are stimulated. It is unclear if this occurs during the night because the examination is conducted during the day.
- Lastly, it is uncertain whether even if there is increased secretion, it is sufficient to improve sleep disturbances.
Future studies should investigate whether the stimulating effect on melatonin secretion is observed on a nightly basis during the frequent use of a weighted blanket for weeks or months. It remains to be determined if the observed increase in melatonin can be therapeutically relevant for the previously described effects of the weighted blanket on insomnia and anxiety.Meth 2022
So, we have little evidence of the effect of weighted blankets on the sleep of individuals without specific health problems. Contrary to what the manufacturers claim, not all sleep and well-being-promoting hormones are secreted more.
Weighted Blankets for Babies or Children?
I’ve already mentioned a few studies conducted on children in specific contexts (dental care, autism spectrum disorders, attention disorders). Some parents wonder if these weighted blankets could improve the sleep of their otherwise healthy babies.
Only one study has been conducted on infants (Summe 2020).
These were neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) infants born with a withdrawal syndrome (their mothers consumed harmful substances during pregnancy). Sixteen babies received 30-minute sessions with weighted blankets.
The reported results?
- No adverse events were observed. The weighted blankets were never removed due to infant distress, and the infants did not experience significant temperature changes.
- There was a significant decrease in the baby’s heart rate and Finnegan score (a test to see if infants are suffering from withdrawal) when a weighted blanket was used. There was no significant change in respiratory rate with the use of a weighted blanket.
No study has evaluated the effectiveness and risk in babies at home without medical supervision.
Given current recommendations to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or choking, I would not venture to use weighted blankets in very young babies or children with motor difficulties.
Effect of Weighted Blankets on Chronic Pain
The last study I would like to mention is the one conducted on 94 adults with chronic pain (Baumgartner 2022). Two groups were formed to wear a blanket during a brief trial and then at night for a week:
- One group used a 15-pound (6 kg) weighted blanket.
- The other group used a 5-pound (2 kg) lightweight blanket.
- No effect on anxiety or sleep.
- No effect on the primary outcome measure selected by the research team, pain evaluation on a scale (VAS). So, no reduction in pain intensity.
- Positive effect on the “pain burden,” how individuals perceive that it impacts their social or emotional life. Especially in the most anxious individuals. The effect size is similar to other non-pharmacological treatments for chronic pain such as exercise.
This (sole) study on the impact of weighted blankets on chronic pain suggests that sleeping with a weighted blanket doesn’t really relieve pain but may impact how it affects individuals.
However, more than 7 days of use would be needed for a clearer understanding. It’s reasonable to assume that the effect may diminish over time, rather than increase.
Is There a Danger in Using a Weighted Blanket?
This is a completely legitimate question. Whenever something can theoretically have positive effects, it can also have negative effects. Even if it is “natural”!
However, studies on weighted blankets often touch on this point only minimally. Some studies may mention things like “there were no serious adverse effects” (Ekholm 2020) without specifying what adverse effects, even non-serious ones, occurred, and at what frequency!
In theory, these weighted blankets could potentially cause the following issues in some individuals:
- Back pain or pain in other parts of the body.
- Difficulty sleeping (for example, due to overheating).
However, we don’t have precise quantitative information on this subject.
There is no known danger in using them during pregnancy in pregnant women or in older children with scoliosis (as long as it doesn’t cause discomfort).
For weighted vests, the risks in cases of spinal deformity (scoliosis or others) or back pain are, in my opinion, slightly higher. Wearing a weighted vest engages the musculature. If you really want to try them, I would recommend introducing them very gradually and monitoring for the development of pain.
However, given that weighted blankets have been used in dozens of different studies, including on more vulnerable individuals like the elderly and newborns, it is reasonable to assume that there is no significant risk in using them for adults or children.
Where Can You Purchase a Weighted Blanket?
I will quickly go over the various ways to purchase a weighted blanket. In general, you can expect to pay between $40 to $300for a blanket for one or two people, for a regular or king-size bed.
It is recommended to choose a blanket that is 10% of your body weight. They come in different materials, including bamboo and cotton for better breathability.
I won’t delve into a comparison because I don’t believe there are objective criteria to differentiate them, given our current knowledge of their effects.
Buying In-Store or Secondhand
Many bedding stores, as well as large retailers, sell weighted blankets. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
Brands that often appear (though this is not necessarily a guarantee of quality):
- Gravity (available on Amazon),
- Mosaic Weighted Blankets
- Baloo Living
- Weighted Idea
- Degrees of Comfort
- Mela Comfort
- John Lewis & Partners
- Mela Weighted Blankets
It’s likely that for an equivalent product, you will pay more in-store than online.
There is an almost infinite number of websites selling weighted blankets! And just as many intermediary platforms.
Here are the top-rated weighted blankets for adults on Amazon at the time of writing (one for a single person, one for two people):
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4,5 – 2,781 review
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4,5 – 1,779 reviews
Do It Yourself
Some people make weighted blankets themselves, and you can even find tutorials on the internet for it. Type in your search engine “make your own weighted blanket .pdf” or “DIY weighted blanket.”
These blankets are often filled with plastic pellets as weight. However, I’m not sure if this would end up being less expensive ($15.99 for 500g; see on Amazon!).
What Should Be Done for Better Sleep in General?
I imagine dedicating a whole article to this topic would be necessary! But some have already done it very well.
Here are their main recommendations. I agree with you; it’s often common sense.
However, sometimes it can be costly to implement these recommendations in one’s lifestyle:
- Maintain regular wake-up and bedtime hours, even on weekends and during holidays.
- Expose yourself to daylight, especially in the morning.
- Limit the consumption of stimulating drinks (coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks), especially after 2 p.m.
- Engage in regular physical activity, preferably stopped 3 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t skip the evening meal, and make sure it’s not too heavy.
- Create a transition time between daytime and evening activities (like our children’s bedtime routine!).
- Sleep in darkness, silence, and at a temperature between 18°C and 20°C.
- Disconnect from screens 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Go to bed at the first signs of sleep.
I haven’t delved into the international literature on the subject in more detail yet; maybe someday!
Conclusion: My Opinion on Weighted Blankets
You’re approaching the end of this article dedicated to the benefits and potential dangers of weighted blankets for babies, children, and adults.
Here’s my summary opinion as a physiotherapist on weighted blankets in four points:
- For adults and children, the risks of using them are low to nonexistent. The only plausible risks are that they may not be effective, that they create (occasional) pain, or that they hinder sleep instead of facilitating it.
- For babies not under medical supervision, it’s best to avoid them due to the risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome.
- Their effectiveness has mostly been tested on very specific populations (such as people with autism spectrum disorders, psychiatric disorders, or dementia) and in very particular contexts (e.g., during dental care). Often, they were only worn for a very short time, a few tens of minutes. The available data are not of very high quality. But for people looking for non-pharmaceutical alternatives, it’s a path to explore if you’re willing to invest a few tens of euros.
- Sellers of these blankets overestimate the effects one can expect from them. However, their price is limited (you don’t need to buy a new one every month), as is the risk of side effects. So I completely understand why some people would like to try them.
Do I use a weighted blanket myself to sleep? No. Before writing this article, I was considering it. After researching the topic, I doubt the long-term effectiveness for improving sleep. And I think I wouldn’t like the warmth it provides.
When I worked with autistic children, I didn’t delve too deeply into the subject (maybe wrongly; I don’t know). I know that some families used them successfully, while others were disappointed.
Some occupational therapists use them a lot. So, I would echo what the main international recommendation says: it’s a reasonable non-pharmacological approach for some people, given the low risk of side effects and the limited tools we have for these children.
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
NewYork Times 1973. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/27/archives/police-reinforce-brooklyn-patrol-in-highrisk-area-volunteers-to.html
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Effets sur des enfants hospitalisés pour des problèmes psychiatriques après une opération
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Written by Nelly Darbois
I love writing articles based on my experience as a physiotherapist (since 2012), scientific writer, and extensive researcher in international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️, where I work as a scientific editor for my own website, which is where you are right now.