According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 or older suffer from an anxiety disorder, equating to 18% of the population. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, it can completely disrupt one’s life, coming between relationships, jobs, and general well-being.
Many people turn to either pharmaceutical drugs, alternative remedies such as herbs and supplements, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or yoga and meditation to heal their anxiety. However, weighted blankets have shown promise as a remedy for many anxiety disorders.
Here’s How Weighted Blankets Are Helping People With Anxiety
Weighted blankets have plastic poly pellets sewn into compartments throughout the blanket, which helps to distribute the weight evenly. The deep pressure from the weighted blanket acts to calm the person under it. The added weight sends a message to the brain to release neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, inducing relaxation.
Initially, occupational therapists used weighted blankets on children with sensory disorders, anxiety, stress, or autism. However, they help adults with anxiety disorders as well.
“In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control,” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. “These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.”
How Heavy Should Your Weighted Blanket Be?
As far as the weight of the blanket, most adults prefer 15 to 30 pounds, but you should seek the advice of a doctor or occupational therapist before purchasing one. However, those with respiratory or circulatory conditions should not use a weighted blanket unless a doctor approves first.
We want to mention that weighted blankets can help people suffering from insomnia as well, in addition to anxiety. Many people with insomnia may also have mental imbalances due to the lack of sleep, so a weighted blanket can not only calm anxiety but help you get a better night’s sleep at the same time.
Because of the added weight from the blanket, make sure to keep the temperature in your room relatively calm so you don’t get overheated during the night. As cozy and comforting as the blanket may seem, it won’t work as well if you feel too uncomfortable to go to sleep.
In addition to the weighted blanket, you might also want to use a grounded sheet or bed beneath you to maximize the calming effect. Grounding means allowing your body to contact the Earth directly or using a device that creates the same result while indoors. Until modern times, we spent most of our days outdoors, soaking up negative electrons from the Earth.
In today’s world, exposure to EMFs, Wi-Fi, mobile phone waves, and other forms of technology have increased our positive electrons, which have the opposite effect of grounding. Preliminary studies on grounding have found that it can reduce cortisol levels, anxiety, inflammation, and chronic pain. Furthermore, it can help improve sleep and energy levels, lessen menstrual cramps, normalize biological rhythms, and much more.
Five Other Reasons to Try a Weighted Blanket (Besides Anxiety!)
While most people use weighted blankets to alleviate anxiety, they also have other benefits. Weighted blankets can help with various conditions, such as the following.
1. Decreases insomnia severity.
Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t come easily when you have insomnia. All the tossing and turning can take a toll on your mental and physical health. However, one randomized, controlled study by Swedish researchers found that weighted blankets significantly improved participants’ insomnia symptoms.
After four weeks of sleeping with a weighted blanket, participants reported reduced insomnia severity, improved sleep quality, and less daytime sleepiness. In addition, their mental health improved as they reported fewer symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, and depression, likely due to enhanced sleep quality.
Participants who used weighted blankets had a 26 times higher chance of experiencing a 50%+ reduction in insomnia severity than the control group. In addition, they had a 20-fold greater chance of achieving remission from insomnia. During a 12-month follow-up period, researchers discovered that the participants maintained these positive results.
2. Reduces chronic pain.
Deep pressure therapy can induce a calming effect and reduce pain perceptions for people with chronic pain. Using a weighted blanket mimics deep pressure from a massage or tight hug and can trigger the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
A 2021 study by researchers at UC San Diego found weighted blankets reduced broad perceptions of chronic pain in 94 participants. For one week, they used either a light (5-lb) or heavy (15-lb) weighted blanket. Those in the weighted blanket group showed improvements in pain perceptions, especially with high trait anxiety. However, their pain intensity levels remained the same.
Still, a weighted blanket could offer relief to those suffering from chronic pain.
3. Improves ADHD symptoms.
While weighted blankets aren’t a treatment for ADHD, they can help manage symptoms and improve sleep quality. For example, a 2021 qualitative study found that children with ADHD experienced better sleep after using weighted blankets. Their parents reported that the children had improved sleep routines, sleep duration, and reduced anxiety after 16 weeks.
In addition, aspects of their everyday lives, such as school participation and family interaction, improved after using weighted blankets.
A 2014 study found that weighted vests improved attention and reduced hyperactivity in children with ADHD. The researchers found that participants who used the weighted vests during a performance task enhanced in several areas.
Specifically, their attention and processing speed improved, and they remained in their seat for long periods. They also fidgeted much less and showed enhanced executive management function.
4. Improves outcomes of medical procedures.
Most people feel nervous about an upcoming surgery or medical procedure, whether minor or severe. However, researchers have found that using a weighted blanket during the operation could alleviate anxiety.
For instance, a 2016 study found that participants who used a weighted blanket during wisdom tooth surgery had lower anxiety and stress. A follow-up study on adolescents who used a weighted blanket during a molar extraction had similar results.
5. Increases feelings of security and safety.
Weighted blankets mimic the feeling of being hugged or swaddled, which helps calm the nervous system. Whether you have sleep anxiety, panic disorder, or other mental health conditions, a weighted blanket can induce relaxation and reduce restless thoughts. In today’s highly stressful world, almost anyone can benefit from a weighted blanket, especially those who struggle with insomnia.
Symptoms of Anxiety?
As with most mental disorders, anxiety stems from genetics, personality, lifestyle, and environmental conditions. Anxiety can cause many uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms, such as constant fear or worry, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues. Other common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling nervous or tense, usually for no reason
- Having a sense of impending doom or danger
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Having cold extremities
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Brain fog
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Avoiding anxiety triggers
Five Key Causes of Anxiety
Most experts agree that causes of anxiety include the following:
- Genetic Predisposition. Mental health issues such as anxiety tend to run in families, so if your parents have anxiety, it increases your risk of developing it. However, scientists have found that anxiety disorders have a heritability of only 26%, so other factors such as traumatic events and brain chemistry likely play a more significant role.
- Brain Chemistry. An ancient part of the brain called the amygdala helps process emotions. When you feel anxious consistently, the amygdala grows larger, reinforcing feelings of fear and worry. Other parts of the brain called the hypothalamus and hippocampus play a role in emotional processing.
- Childhood Trauma or Environmental Stress. Childhood abuse or traumatic events can cause anxiety from an early age. In addition, living with long-term stress can lead to chronic anxiety.
- Drug or Alcohol Misuse. Substance abuse can cause or exacerbate existing anxiety symptoms.
- Medical Conditions. Medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid problems could trigger anxiety. By treating these underlying conditions, anxiety symptoms may disappear without additional treatments.
Final Thoughts on How Weighted Blankets Could Alleviate Anxiety
Anxiety can have a devastating impact on someone’s life, causing them to shut themselves off from the world altogether. People with severe anxiety may have difficulty maintaining their daily routine, jobs, or relationships. No one should suffer to this extent, but many people find it easier to cope with the modern world by simply avoiding it.
Treatments for anxiety include psychiatric medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. These have been proven to help, but it often isn’t enough for people with debilitating anxiety.
Thankfully, researchers have found that weighted blankets can significantly improve anxiety symptoms. In 32 adults, 63% reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket. If you struggle with insomnia or racing thoughts at bedtime, a comforting blanket may help calm your mind.