Weighted Blanket for Anxiety and Insomnia: How to Make It Work

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Hugging is something we instinctively do when we want to calm, support and care for a friend or loved one. There's something about that even pressure... the grounding weight... that speaks to us on a basic level. Weighted blankets, just like hugs, provide a lovely feeling of protection and support for those experiencing anxiety and disrupted sleep. Rest well.

We’ve all been through periods of anxiety and insomnia. And it doesn’t take a genius to notice that when you’re stressed, your sleep is generally worse. Anxiety and insomnia often go hand-in-hand and, unfortunately, can create a vicious cycle. Anxiety makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, and a bad night of sleep makes you feel more anxious and stressed the next day. (1)

This is true whether you’re feeling temporary stress about something, like an upcoming presentation at work, or if you have an anxiety disorder, which impacts about 20% of the adults in the United States. Both can affect sleep in several ways. (1)

People with anxiety may find themselves lying in bed mulling over what is causing them stress, which makes it harder to fall asleep. They might experience angst over the anticipated difficulty of falling asleep, which then of course makes it that much harder to drift off. They may even wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night, potentially with a racing mind that makes getting back to sleep all but impossible. (1)

If you’re familiar with this cycle – and how it affects your daytime hours – you may feel like breaking it is a futile endeavor. But it turns out there is hope, and it’s a relatively easy fix, too that works great for many people. Weighted blankets can have a positive effect on both stress and sleep, making it possible to get a great night of rest and live up to your full potential the next day. (2)

Why Weighted Blankets Reduce Stress

Weighted blankets usually look like an average quilted comforter, with one main difference: small weights have been added into the squares of the blanket. The blankets usually weigh between four and 30 pounds, and have been used as therapy for people with autism, anxiety, and insomnia. (2)

The benefits of a weighted blanket come from the way it simulates deep pressure touch (DPT). Deep Pressure Touch is the type of firm, even pressure found in massage and swaddling. Studies have shown that DPT can reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety. (2)

Central Nervous System and Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are also effective because of the way they “ground” the body, pushing it downward. This may help to reduce the levels of cortisol released into your body at night. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released by the adrenal glands when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This occurs when your brain believes that you’re under attack and sends you into fight or flight. (2, 3)

Cortisol’s job is to help your body and brain react more effectively to danger. The fight or flight response is meant to be quick and to recede once a threat has passed. The problem is that everyday stress can cause the same fight or flight reaction as a truly dangerous situation, like an animal attack. And instead of this reaction quickly coming and going with the threat, it sticks around, causing too many stress hormones to be released into the body. (2, 3)

Elevated cortisol levels can create issues throughout the body. They can weaken the immune system, negatively affect the digestive tract, and increase blood sugar levels. Too much cortisol can also cause anxiety, depression, insomnia, and weight gain. (2)

Weighted Blankets Reduce Stress

But here’s where the weighted blanket comes in to help with stress and insomnia. The grounding effect of a weighted blanket activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body recover from that fight or flight state. It may also cause the release of dopamine and serotonin. These are the feel-good hormones that help regulate mood and sleep and decrease anxiety, stress, and depression. (2, 3)

Scientific studies have explored the effectiveness of weighted blankets in reducing anxiety and insomnia. One study used vital sign metrics to determine that a 30-pound weighted blanket is generally safe for adults to use. This study involved 32 adults, and 63% of them reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket. (4)

Because of the connection between stress and insomnia, since weighted blankets can reduce anxiety, they may also be helpful in promoting healthy sleep. They offer relaxation through both deep pressure touch and grounding, which can make it easier for weighted blanket users to fall and stay asleep. (2)

Choosing and Using a Weighted Blanket

When choosing a weighted blanket, the most important consideration is how heavy you want it to be. It’s generally recommended that adults use a weighted blanket that is 5 to 10% of their body weight. For children, the recommendation is a blanket that weighs 10% of their body weight plus one pound. However, you may want to ask your doctor to help you decide what weight would be best for you. You should also speak with your doctor before using a weighted blanket if you have respiratory issues, circulation issues, a chronic health condition, temperature regulation issues, or are going through menopause. (2)

You should also consider the fabric that a weighted blanket is made from before purchasing one. Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, will hold in heat. If you prefer cooler temperatures when sleeping, you should look for more breathable natural fibers, such as cotton. (2)

Where to Buy a Weighted Blanket

At one time, weighted blankets were quite difficult to find. But as we have learned about how helpful they can be, they have become much more accessible. Weighted blankets are available online and at many brick-and-mortar home goods stores. And for the DIYer, there are plenty of instructions out there for making your own weighted blanket! (2)

How to Use a Weighted Blanket

To use your weighted blanket, cover your entire body from your shoulders to your feet. If you’re not comfortable with it at first, try sleeping with the weighted blanket only over your legs for a few nights. You can gradually increase how much of your body you cover with it until you reach your shoulders. It’s okay to sleep on your side if that’s what you’re used to, but lying on your back will evenly distribute the weight of the blanket across your body. (5)

You can use your weighted blanket with your existing bedding. But if you get too hot, you can remove your duvet or comforter and just use the weighted blanket.

Consistent use is important to get the most benefits from your weighted blanket. You may also want to track changes in the quality of your sleep once you start using a weighted blanket. Some fitness trackers record sleep automatically. You can also keep a journal by your bed to record how well you slept the night before when you wake up.

Even with a weighted blanket as a tool to improve anxiety and insomnia, it’s important to practice other healthy sleep habits, like sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding blue light before bed. Natural supplements, like Be Serene, may also help you get a good night of sleep while using a weighted blanket. Be Serene is a potent formula designed to relieve anxiety quickly. Because it’s made with adaptogens, it works with your body and brain to restore the nervous system’s natural state of calm. With Be Serene and a weighted blanket working together to support your nervous system, you’re sure to have an amazing night of sleep. (5)

When you’re stuck in a cycle of anxiety and insomnia, it can feel like you’ll never be able to get out. But a weighted blanket, which is a simple and accessible tool, can help you overcome stress and get the rest you need to be your best.

Sources:

  1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-and-sleep
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/weighted-blanket-for-anxiety 
  3. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body 
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1300/J004v24n01_05?needAccess=true 
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201907/what-you-need-know-about-using-weighted-blanket 

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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