If you’re struggling with insomnia, a weighted blanket could be just what you need.
New research from Sweden reports that such blankets are both safe to use and effective, leading to reduced severity of insomnia, improved sleep, and lower levels of daytime sleepiness. The study used a weighted chain blanket on patients diagnosed with clinical insomnia and a co-occurring psychiatric disorder such as depression.
Heavy blanket, light 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,” said Dr. Mats Alder, consultant psychiatrist in the department of clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and first author of the study.
“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.”
The research involved 120 adults of both sexes (32% men) with a mean age of 40, who had previously been diagnosed with both clinical insomnia and a psychiatric disorder. Such co-occurring conditions include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The participants were randomly assigned to an experimental or a control group.
Those in the experimental group were given a weighted blanket to use for four weeks while sleeping, while those in the control group were given a lighter blanket. All in all, participants in the experimental group reported “significantly” improved sleep quality, including reduced insomnia severity, better sleep maintenance, and higher activity levels during the day. They also reported reduced symptoms of fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Quantitatively, the team explains, those in the experimental group were roughly 26 times more likely to experience a 50% decrease in insomnia severity compared to the control group and were almost 20 times more likely to see a remission of their insomnia. Roughly 60% of the participants in the experimental group showed improvements in their symptoms compared to 5.4% of those in the control group. Remission was seen in 42.2% of the participants in the control group compared with 3.6% in the control group
The participants were given the option of using a weighted blanket for one year (12 months) after the experiment and had to choose between two chain blankets (6 kilograms and 8 kilograms) and two ball blankets (6.5 kilograms and 7 kilograms). Most chose the heaviest one, the team explains, and one chose to discontinue the study due to feelings of anxiety when using a weighted blanket.
Participants who switched from the control blanket to a weighted blanket saw similar improvements to the patients who were initially part of the experimental group. After 12 months, 92% of weighted blanket users were responders, and 78% of patients were in remission (only 92% of the initial participants had responded with their data by this point).
The team says they were “surprised” by the magnitude of the effect such blankets had on insomnia, and “pleased” to see they helped with both anxiety and feelings of depression. As to why this happened, they believe that touch is a basic need and the tactile stimulation provided by the blankets can help foster feelings of calm and comfort.
The paper “A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders” has been published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.