Have you heard of weighted blankets?
Though I’m now a full-time student again, I spent the last seven years teaching (I taught French and Spanish—mostly French—at the junior high and high school level). It was probably in that context that I first heard of weighted blankets.
So what are they? They are cozy blankets that have the addition of some kind of material that adds weight, kind of like a giant bean bag that you can wrap around yourself. They might be best known for their association with Autism—many individuals with Autism spectrum disorder are very sensitive to sensory input (the things you hear, see, feel, etc.), and some benefit from having extra sensory stimulation, like the feeling of a weighted blanket on their lap.
Though I had heard of them, I hadn’t really thought of getting one until I had the chance to try one out. In addition to sensory stimulation, the blankets can be a great way to help calm anxiety, and it definitely had a calming effect when I tried it. Right away, I started working on getting one of my own. Here’s how it went:
I loved it instantly
I find the blanket super cozy, calming, and comforting. I mostly use it at night, and when I snuggle under it, I feel safe, comfortable, and, well, calm. It can be especially helpful on the more anxious days. I also use it occasionally on my lap when I work on things.
Scientific research supports what I’ve found when I use a weighted blanket. It has confirmed that pressure can have a calming effect–Temple Grandin, for one, found it can relieve anxiety for people as well as animals (you can see one of her articles on this here). It might not be surprising, then, to hear a weighted blanket may also increase serotonin levels while reducing cortisol.
In addition to the effect I notice it has on anxiety, I like it for sensory reasons, too. Though no one official has ever confirmed it, I’m pretty sure I also have some sensory sensitivities (in addition to the anxious tendencies): There are a bunch of fruits I won’t eat because of their textures, there are some things like certain fabrics or types of carpet that make me cringe when I rub them (or if someone in my vicinity does), and I like sensations to be symmetrical—so, for example, if I pick up something cold with one hand, I’ll touch it with the other one, too, to equal things out (which I didn’t even realize was weird until I met my husband and he started picking up on me doing it). This is also part of why I like the blanket. I like the sensation, and I find it calming when I’ve been overwhelmed.
The blanket should be about 10% of your body weight
The blankets come in lots of different sizes and weights. When I bought the blanket, however, I asked my husband if he’d want to share it with me at night, and he said yes. So, based on this formula, I went out and looked for the longest, heaviest one I could find, which turned out to be 25 pounds.
And what happened? When I got my blanket, he tried it out once and said it felt like he couldn’t breathe under it, and now has no interest in using it. So I just use it on my own, and it’s pretty unwieldy. It’s simply too big. I just put it on my half of the bed when I use it, but I need to scrunch it up so it doesn’t infringe on his space. Picking it all up also feels like a workout, and it takes several heaves. I’d definitely recommend following size and weight guidelines like those at this link when purchasing one.
It totally fixed my restless legs
For years now, I’ve had what I assume is restless leg syndrome. At night, when I’m trying to fall asleep, my legs start feeling really, really uncomfortable unless I move them—but then I’m moving my legs while I try to fall asleep. It is not fun. I did ask a doctor about it once, and he thought it might be a side effect of the psych meds I take. He offered to prescribe me even more medication for it (which I didn’t think sounded great).
When I use the weighted blanket, it totally fixes the problem. I don’t notice it happening at all. It’s awesome. And a much better solution than another pill (with other possible side effects), in my opinion.
It helps me sleep
I’ve found this a great way to help me fall asleep. Like I mentioned, it helps calm some anxiety. At night, lying in bed, it’s so easy replay everything you’ve ever worried about happening. I also find it easy to feel really overwhelmed about the coming morning. Night time is a time where I can really use some extra help with anxiety, and this does a great job. It also helps me feel calm physically, like with the restless legs.
Consider it an investment
I spent some time looking around for the right blanket for me. After some research, the blanket I decided was from The Weighted Blanket Co., which I found on Amazon. It cost $125, which is not an insignificant purchase.
I did look into making one myself. The blankets are usually filled with either plastic pellets or very small glass beads (they look kind of like sand), and I found out buying enough filling plus the fabric would cost about $95 (and then I’d still need to make it). Using rice or dried beans is a DIY alternative, but I couldn’t think of how I’d ever wash a blanket filled with one of these. This might be a good short-term option, though, and you could always upgrade later if you decide to. This is a great article with resources on how to do just that.
Overall, a win
I am so glad I have my weighted blanket (even if a too-big one!). They are awesome tools for anxiety—as well as for sensory issues. It’s been a great tool to help me sleep. Definitely something I would recommend to others.
Why you should probably get one
A weighted blanket can help ease anxiety and promote a sense of safety and calm. This 2006 study found when adults participants used a weighted blanket, 33% of them experienced lower blood pressure and pulse rate, 63% reported lower anxiety, and 78% said they preferred the weighted blanket as way to help them calm down.
It can help improve sleep.
It provides sensory stimulation. This can be especially soothing to some populations, including those with sensory processing disorder and, often, individuals with Autism spectrum disorder seek sensory stimulation. Additional sensory stimulation has also been associated with better attention for those with ADHD.
It eases restless legs; this source also reports it can also be effective for pain management.
A weighted blanket has the potential to help some of your symptoms without medication–which means you don’t need a prescription, insurance, or to monitor for side effects (at least there aren’t any side effects to using one that I’m aware of!).
It is an investment, but it’s a one-time purchase for a great tool to add to your mental wellness toolkit.
Mental wellness needs to include many smaller things to be effective–there won’t ever be one big magic bullet to solve all your problems. A weighted blanket can definitely be one of those smaller things that together add up to effective mental wellness.