Illustration: Matija Medved

OPTIMIZE ME

Can Weighted Blankets Heal Your Psyche?

People claim they can snuff out anxiety and give you peak sleep. But what does the science say?

Elemental
Published in
5 min readJan 21, 2020

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Optimize Me is an Elemental column exploring (and fact-checking) the weirdest self-improvement trends. It comes out every Tuesday.

CChances are, somebody you know received a weighted blanket over the holiday season. The behemoths are everywhere these days, marketed to soothe our collective anxiety and smother our insomnia.

“It just kind of keeps you in place. If you were almost about to wake up in the middle of the night, I feel like the blanket hugs you back into sleep,” says Jonathan Coffey, who uses a weighted blanket to help with his insomnia. “You’re kind of dozy and cozy under the weight. It just feels good.”

But other than feeling intoxicatingly, suffocatingly good, is there any evidence that the blankets are doing anything beneficial for people’s mental health? And does it really matter?

Instead of feathers, weighted blankets are filled with glass or plastic beads, which are sequestered into pockets so they stay equally distributed. The blankets are typically sold in 10-, 20-, or 30-pound weights, and the recommendation is that you should buy one that’s roughly 10% of your body weight.

While it sounds like a rather bizarre idea for a product, weighted blankets got their start among occupational therapists to help treat children with autism who have difficulty processing sensory stimulation.

“Ninety-five percent of the kids on the autism spectrum have a sensory processing disturbance, so either they over-respond or under-respond to typical sensations from their environment,” says Bryan Gee, director of the occupational therapy program at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. “The weighted blanket intervention really emerged from the early 1990s when therapists were using weighted vests to add resistance to kids that were seeking a lot of sensory information.”

The theory is that weighted blankets (and weighted vests) provide deep pressure stimulation on the skin, which can have a calming, focusing effect — grounding you literally and figuratively. However, the…

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Dana G Smith
Elemental

Health and science writer • PhD in 🧠 • Words in Scientific American, STAT, The Atlantic, The Guardian • Award-winning Covid-19 coverage for Elemental