Do Weighted Blankets Really Do Anything?


[♪ INTRO ] There’s nothing better than a warm, snuggly
bed to help you relax. You’ve got your pillows, you’ve got your
sheets, and that big old blanket to keep you warm no matter how cold it is outside. Winter is coming. But some say if you really want to let go
of all your stress, you should try a heavier blanket — like, 13 and a half kilograms
heavier. That’s because a lot of people swear by
weighted blankets as a way to reduce anxiety, self-soothe, or just sleep better. And the research to date does kind of support
their use — but it’s not clear if these blankets do something specific, or just act
as a placebo. As the name implies, a ‘weighted blanket’
refers to a blanket that’s been specifically made heavier, usually with beads or chains
sewn evenly through the fabric. Adding a dozen kilograms or so to your covers
might sound smothering, but according to safety studies, it doesn’t pose a significant health
risk to adults. That said, it’s worth noting that this sort
of extra weight isn’t suitable for everyone, especially unsupervised children. And there’s no real consensus on what weight
to use, either. Many say around 10% of your body weight is
the sweet spot. But how heavy you go is up to you. Some people like their blanket a little heavier,
some a little lighter. Different people are different. These weighted blankets are often suggested
in mental health communities, particularly for people with anxiety. They’re also commonly used by people with
autism, to soothe people with dementia, or by people who have trouble sleeping. And with so many uses across diverse conditions,
they kind of sound too good to be true. But research suggests there may actually be
something to them. There are several studies that show, subjectively
at least, that sleeping with a weighted blanket helps people feel less anxious. For example, in a 2008 study involving 32
adults, 63% of them reported reduced anxiety on a standardized questionnaire after sleeping
with a 13.6 kilogram blanket, and 78% of them said they felt more relaxed with it. Other anxiety studies have had similar results,
and even in studies that don’t look at anxiety specifically, a pretty large portion of participants
seem to just like the experience for what it is. For example, 31 participants with chronic
insomnia in a 2016 study reported feeling safer and more comfortable when they slept
with a weighted blanket. They also believed they slept better — and
they were right. Sleep quality data revealed that they tossed
and turned a whole lot less under the heavy blanket. They also stayed asleep for longer intervals. Similarly, both the children and their parents
in a 2014 study involving 67 kids with autism reported liking the weighted blanket better. The only thing is… in that study, it didn’t
actually help them sleep longer. In fact, when it comes to improving sleep,
the research is a pretty mixed bag. Same with their use by people with autism
— sometimes they seem to help with things like anxiety or behavioral symptoms, sometimes
they don’t. There is some evidence that a weighted blanket
can help you relax during a stressful situation. A 2016 study monitored 60 patients’ heart
rates while they were getting their wisdom teeth removed, with 30 of them receiving a
weighted blanket halfway through. The data suggested that while everyone found
the procedure stressful, those that didn’t receive a heavy blanket spent more time in
“fight or flight” mode — basically, they were freaking out, while the others were
able to somewhat calm down. But… not all scientists think the heart
rate measures used are reliable indicators of nervous system activity. And no one really knows how weighted blankets
could trigger a more relaxed state. Some scientists think they provide deep pressure
stimulation — a type of pressure that is thought to trigger your nervous system’s
chill mode. But even if that’s true, there’s a bit
of a gap with regards to how that works. It could be a cognitive thing — that pressure
makes you feel like you’re being held or hugged, and that feeling is just super reassuring
— something we’ve evolved to find relaxing. Or, something about the weight itself could
trigger changes to the cells that nudge the nervous system towards relaxation. Or any benefits could be a placebo effect:
people feel relaxed or sleep better when wrapped in these heavy blankets simply because they
believe that’s what should happen. In order to really figure out how weighted
blankets work when they do, we’d need a study with a placebo control. But… you can’t really make a not-heavy
blanket that people think is heavy. That means a true placebo-controlled trial,
where people aren’t sure if they’re getting a weighted blanket or not, it’s not possible. And that makes it a lot harder to tease out
whether the positive effects people report are because of their expectations that it’ll
work or the actual blanket. In the end, some would say it doesn’t matter
why they work — just that they do. For many, weighted blankets are a source of
relief for some pretty unpleasant symptoms. And that’s great. I like blanket hugs. But they definitely don’t work for others,
and scientists can’t really say why. In the end, it all comes down to individual
preferences. Like I said it earlier, different people are
different. So ultimately, it’s really up to you if
you want to give this snuggly coping technique a try, also to your bank account. I don’t think they are cheap. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! And a special thanks to our patrons on Patreon. Without their continued support, we couldn’t
make episodes like this. If you’d like to help us make free educational
videos about psychology, or just learn more about our Patreon community, you can head
on over to Patreon.com/SciShow. [ ♪ OUTRO ]

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