Do Weighted Blankets Help With Sleep?

Wighted blankets are about 3 to 25 pounds (1 to 11 kilograms) and are designed to essentially smother the muscles into relaxing. Yulia-Images/iStock/Thinkstock

Not all of us want a hug when we're stressed out. Some people, particularly those with sensory processing problems, do want a hug, but might be uncomfortable getting it from a person. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and autism activist, had a solution.

Grandin invented a "squeeze machine" that helped relax some children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Autism affects the ability to interact and communicate, and ADHD is a mental disorder that impairs impulse control and ability to focus. Some autistic children seek physical pressure to cope with overstimulation. The idea behind Grandin's invention is that deep-touch pressure, like cuddling, firm stroking or hugging, can be calming. Could adults without autism benefit from the same reactions to physical pressure as autistic children?

Some industrious folks think adults with anxiety (and a whole host of other conditions, such as insomnia and stress) might benefit from deep-touch pressure. So, companies like Mosaic Weighted Blankets and SensaCalm have introduced blankets that weigh about 3 to 25 pounds (1 to 11 kilograms) and are designed to pretty much smother the muscles into relaxing. But what's the evidence that the blankets alleviate these ailments?

One 2015 Swedish study found that a weighted blanket improved insomniacs' sleep time and experience. (Note, the study was supported by a grant from a manufacturer of weighted blankets.) Another paper found that adults were calmed by weighted blankets, with 63 percent of the 32 participants reporting lower anxiety after using one. Since deep-touch pressure is reported to lower high heart rates and cortisol levels while increasing serotonin (a neurotransmitter that maintains mood balance), it makes sense that weighted blankets could help moderate the nervous system.

Now, it's important to note that not every intervention works for every person. While some might find a heavy blanket comforting and soothing, others might find it a $300 way to feel like they're being smothered.