Sleep better: Weighted blankets can cure insomnia within a year, study finds

New research shows sleeping with heavy chain blankets not only leads to better rest, but can also reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.

DARIEN, Ill. — Insomnia can have many causes and lead to numerous health issues for the people dealing with it. While some people with sleep issues opt for medications, a study says a new blanket may be all you need. A report by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) finds weighted blankets not only cure most insomnia patients within one year, they can reduce depression and anxiety too.

The study by three Swedish researchers examines 120 adults who had all been diagnosed with clinical insomnia and a psychiatric disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or anxiety. The team split these participants into two groups, one using chain-weighted blankets between 13.2 and 17.6 pounds and a control group using a 3.3-pound blanket with light plastic inside.

After four weeks, the results show people using heavy chain blankets are 26 times more likely to experience less insomnia. Nearly 60 percent of weighted blanket users report decreases of at least 50 percent in their Insomnia Severity Index (ISI). Just 5.4 percent of light blanket users report a similar decrease in insomnia symptoms.

More significantly, study authors report 42.2 percent of weighted blanket users see their insomnia go into remission after four weeks. This number is just 3.6 percent among participants with the lighter option.

How weighted blankets help us sleep

The Swedish team suspects the weight in these blankets mimics the sensation of being held and touched. That effect calms the nerves and helps the body to relax, resulting in a better sleep.

“A suggested explanation for the calming and sleep-promoting effect is the pressure that the chain blanket applies on different points on the body, stimulating the sensation of touch and the sense of muscles and joints, similar to acupressure and massage,” Dr. Mats Alder of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm says in a media release.

“There is evidence suggesting that deep pressure stimulation increases parasympathetic arousal of the autonomic nervous system and at the same time reduces sympathetic arousal, which is considered to be the cause of the calming effect.”

Adler adds the results also show weighted blanket users experience better sleep maintenance, more daytime energy, less fatigue, and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Curing insomnia without drugs

Following the four-week experiment, investigators gave the study group the choice to keep using a weighted blanket for another year. This phase tests four different heavy blankets, two using chains and two using balls. All of the options weigh between 13.2 and 17.6 pounds, with most participants choosing the heavier blankets.

This follow-up study finds people switching from the light blanket to the heavier models experience the same sleep relief. Overall, 92 percent of the patients using weighted blankets see their insomnia decrease. A staggering 78 percent report their insomnia is in remission after the year-long study.

Dr. William McCall, who is not part of the Swedish study, tells the AASM that the “holding environment” theory believes touch is a basic need of humans. McCall says touch provides both calm and comfort, adding there needs to be more research connecting bedding options and sleep quality.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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