Manufacturers claim weighted blankets can help you sleep better and reduce anxiety. But do these claims carry any weight?
Sellers of weighted blankets claim their products will deliver “enhanced sleep”, “reduce stress” and help you “unwind naturally”.
For $150 at Spotlight, you can buy a KOO Elite 6.8kg weighted blanket that “uses deep touch pressure to help you relax and provide an enhanced sleep”. Kiwi online retailer Groundd promises its blankets will “settle over your body like a hug” and can “lower stress and anxiety”. Prices range from $200 to $300.
Weighted blankets are much like a quilt but have metal, glass or plastic beads sewn into them to make them heavier. Claims for the blankets are based on an occupational therapy practice called “deep pressure” (or “deep touch pressure”), developed in the 1970s and intended to have a calming effect on patients.
The practice uses a range of techniques, including massage, weighted blankets and vests. However, there’s little research on its effectiveness, and good evidence weighted blankets can really help you get a good night’s sleep and ease anxiety is hard to find.
Dr Bronwyn Sweeney, Massey University Sleep/Wake Research Centre research officer, said there’s limited research weighted blankets provide any benefits.
A review published this year in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy found no conclusive evidence they helped with insomnia. The authors suggested the blankets may help with anxiety but there were big limitations with the eight studies included in the review, such as small sample sizes and inconsistent test methods.
The studies were also carried out on specific groups, such as people having dental treatment or patients in acute mental health services.
The best that can be taken from the research is that the blankets “may” help some people, Dr Sweeney said.
If you’re suffering from insomnia, there are much better options. The first-line treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, “a well validated treatment approach [that’s] been found to be helpful across a wide range of ages and people”, she said.
Dr Gilbert Azuela, an occupational therapist and project lead at health workforce agency Te Pou, also has reservations about weighted blankets. While some people find them relaxing, others find them distressing, he said.
If you’re tempted to try one, Dr Azuela recommends blankets should only be placed on a person from the waist down because putting weight on the chest could lead to breathing difficulties.
It’s also important a blanket isn’t too heavy, particularly for children. A blanket should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight and shouldn’t be used to restrict movement he said.
If you’re feeling stressed or suffering from insomnia, before you pay hundreds of dollars on a souped-up blanket, you might want to talk to your GP.