Weighted blankets were once prescribed by therapists and psychiatrists to help people with conditions such as ADHD and anxiety, but thanks to a number of new manufacturers – and, of course, the fueller of all new fads, social media – they’ve now hit the mainstream.
Historically, weighted blankets have been used in sensory integration therapy as a calming strategy, allowing those with autism or other disorders to focus on sensory experience, which experts say could help them control their emotions.
But it wasn’t long before the weighted blankets surged in popularity and become the hot sleep trend of the Instagram masses. Late last year, Time magazine named “blankets that ease anxiety” one of the best inventions of 2018. And many imitations of the weighted blanket have appeared – SensaCalm, DreamCatcher, Salt of the Earth and Gravity Blanket – the latter creating an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign which raised millions of dollars to bring weighted blankets to the general public.
The weighted blanket is now for everyone – some come covered in dinosaurs for children, while others offer a chic, silk-like material for adults. These days they’re sold as relaxation aids – a study showed more than three-quarters of participants used the blanket to help them calm down, while 63% reported feeling less anxious after using it. A later study from 2015 showed a weighted blanket decreased disruptive moments of insomnia sufferers and lengthened average sleeping time.
Perhaps more importantly, they have become a valuable aid to war veterans dealing with PTSD, giving them the ability to sleep through the night without panic attacks or night terrors.
However, the weighted blanket is not totally free from controversy. While they are considered harmless for teenagers or adults, two child deaths have been linked to their misuse: one was a 7-month-old baby, the other, a nine-year-old boy with autism in Quebec, who suffocated under the weight of a blanket after being rolled up in one at school.
It was with a healthy dose of scepticism that I decided to try one for myself. I got my weighted blanket from one of the UK’s top sellers, Gravity Blanket. These things don’t come cheap, though – one will set you back around £149. Personally, I wouldn’t say I suffer from anxiety, but like anyone I have my fair share of anxious moments, and I often have trouble sleeping – both getting to sleep and staying asleep. Gravity Blankets are made using organic, hypoallergenic cotton, which is quilted and sewn into square sections, making pockets to fill with glass micro beads that create the perfect weight for the individual. They generally weigh between four and nine kilos.
So what exactly is the point of a weighted blanket for someone like me? How is this better than, say, counting down from 100 to get to sleep? It’s said these blankets mimic the feeling of being hugged or held, helping the body relax into sleep. Gravity Blankets also claim the weight of the blanket should help with internal and physical tension, which I often feel a lot in my back.
The first thing I noted about my blanket delivery is these things are HEAVY. I cannot stress how heavy they are. It’ll take you a while to get used to grabbing it and feeling like it’s got nine bags of sugar on top of it. It’s so heavy – I had to get my boyfriend to help me carry it home from the office.
My main worry with the blanket was if it had the opposite of its desired effect and instead of relaxing me, the weight could make me feel claustrophobic. But while the sensation of not being able to move around easily took some getting used to, I could soon feel myself relaxing. I didn’t feel like I was being hugged necessarily, but it was strangely comforting…
And here’s the proof for you: I didn’t get up once in the night. I’m a major night wee-er. There isn’t a night where I don’t get up at about 3am and go for a quick wee. And I slept all the way through. Yes, I was very very desperate for the toilet when I awoke, but I was also astonished.
I’ve used this blanket a few times and have been impressed every time. It’s not reached that level of result every time, but it’s definitely improved my sleep, and my back feels a little less achy. And while I can’t speak for whether it works on anxiety, there are some really heartfelt testimonials on the Salt of the Earth’s site that shows just how essential these can be for some people, particularly children: “[My son] told me this morning he had never had a better nights (sic) sleep than he did last night. He is 12 years old and suffers from Aspergers,” says one. “I just wanted to let you know, it was very much worth every penny I spent on it.”
So whether you have troubled controlling an overactive mind, problems with anxiety or issues with sleeping, a weighted blanket might just be the source of a more secure and sound sleep.