What is a weighted blanket and how do they work?

Weighted blankets hit the mainstream as an aid to those suffering with insomnia or anxiety. But what exactly are they and who are they good for? Here's what you need to know

(Image credit: Amin Hasani on Unsplash)

Weighted blankets are having a big moment right now, but what exactly are they and how do they work? Before you invest in one of the best weighted blankets, it helps to have a bit of background knowledge. This article is here to help answer all the questions you might have about this much-praised anxiety and insomnia aid. 

The market for weighted blankets is an interesting one right now. It began as a niche market for people with anxiety and sensory issues, but it really began hitting the headlines in 2017 with the incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign for the Gravity Blanket: in just a year it racked up sales of $15 million. When TIME magazine called weighted blankets one of the best inventions of 2018, sales of Gravity blankets went into orbit.

Gravity may have popularised the weighted blanket, but now there are all kinds of models in all kinds of fabrics at all kinds of prices. Many of the big brands behind the best mattresses have got on board with their own incarnations. So how exactly do they work, and who are they good for? Read on to find out.

What is a weighted blanket?

A weighted blanket is just like a regular blanket, but it has tiny weights inside. These are typically in the form of tiny glass beads, evenly distributed throughout the blanket to provide a gentle, even pressure on the user's body. It may weigh as much as 11kg or more, the equivalent of five heavy woolen blankets. Like normal blankets they come in a range of fabrics, and some have removable, washable covers so you don't need to worry about getting the whole thing into the washing machine. They might be used occasionally, like a regular blanket, or as an alternative to one of the best duvets.

What are the benefits of a weighted blanket?

The main one is better sleep quality. A weighted blanket uses the same principles as baby swaddling or the wraps that have helped people with ADHD, autism and similar sensory issues: by limiting movement without being uncomfortable, it can help us feel more secure and help us sleep more soundly for longer. 

Many people with insomnia or general trouble sleeping say they're life-changing. Some people find that weighted blankets also help with anxiety and other mental issues by helping them relax and feel safe. In general, they can be an aid to reduce restlessness and promote relaxation.

So do weighted blankets really help you sleep better? Thousands of people say that yes, weighted blankets really do help you sleep better. But you need to consider the wider environment too: your room lighting, its temperature, ambient noise and other factors that may negatively affect your sleep.

How does a weighted blanket work?

The best weighted blankets are made from a mesh of little sealed pockets filled with tiny beads or pellets. That means the weight is consistent across the whole blanket. The weight is enough to make you feel secure but not so heavy that you're uncomfortable. The weight creates something called Deep Pressure Stimulation, a similar sensation to being hugged.

How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

This is really down to personal preference, but as a rule of thumb for adults the weight of your blanket should be about one-tenth of your body weight. We wouldn't recommend going lower than around 7 per cent of your body weight or above 12 per cent. Weighted blankets aren't suitable for children aged three or under, and for children above that age err on the side of caution in terms of weight. 

You'll find that some retailers and manufacturers offer a wider range of weights than others.

Are weighted blankets safe?

For most of us, yes. But there are some circumstances in which weighted blankets shouldn't be used. If you have respiratory issues or a chronic medical condition you should speak to your doctor first, and you should never give a weighted blanket to children under three.

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