Weighted blankets are quickly becoming one of the most popular alternatives to expensive pills, medications, and therapies for easing anxiety and improving overall health and wellbeing. These weighted wonders are a natural, holistic, and affordable way to calm the mind and body, and potentially find more restful sleep and relaxation. If you’re new to weighted blankets, or someone looking to expand your understanding of how they can be used, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the understanding—and owning—a weighted blanket.
Just as the name suggests, a weighted blanket is a blanket that has a little more weight than a typical blanket. Sizes and weights can range; smaller, lighter blankets for children can weigh as little as five pounds, while larger blankets can weigh 20 pounds or more. The weighted element of the blanket usually comes in the form of tiny pellets made out of plastic or glass that are pocketed into the blanket. The added weight is purported to have therapeutic properties that calm anxiety, ease insomnia, reduce stress, improve sleep, and encourage a more relaxed mood.
Although their popularity appears to have exploded recently, weighted blankets have actually been around for decades in the medical community. Originally used to treat anxiety and autism spectrum disorders, it was noted that a heavier blanket often calmed patients and helped them sleep more soundly. Over the last few years, thanks to the wonder and power of the internet, these therapeutic tools have made their way into the mainstream. Access to weighted blankets has increased and more and more people outside the medical community are employing them in their day-to-day life, seeking relief from everyday stress, insomnia, and even PTSD.
A standard weighted blanket resembles a regular comforter, but is crafted in such a way that the quilted pattern of the comforter can be filled with tiny pellets of plastic or glass to give it added weight. The benefit of this construction is twofold: It creates an even distribution of the weight across the entire blanket by preventing “pooling” of the weighted element and allows the beads to contour to the body, creating a hug like sensation that is calming without being restrictive. This calming pressure is also used in other weighted products, like weighted vests for young children to help them stay focused, or pet products designed to keep animals calm during thunderstorms or loud fireworks. Blankets, however, are one of the most versatile weighted products available.
Understanding the myriad uses of weighted blankets is just the beginning. Many people become overwhelmed when trying to choose the right size, weight, and usage for their weighted blanket. This comprehensive guide to weighted blankets will give you the insights and confidence you need to choose—or make–– the blanket that is right for you.
Are weighted blankets the silver bullet, miracle cure for anxiety and more? No, of course not. But they are a powerful, affordable tool for self-healing. Weighted blankets work by energizing your body’s natural ability to respond positively and effectively to stress. The gentle pressure of the blanket creates feel-good and calming sensations mimicking deep touch pressure (DTP). DTP is shown to have therapeutic effects on the body, specifically our parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, both of which form part of the nervous system.
The parasympathetic is often called the “rest and digest” system and is responsible for conserving energy and slowing the heart rate. The sympathetic is our “fight or flight” system, triggered in stressful situations. DTP affects each of these systems differently:
- increases parasympathetic activity, thereby slowing down the heart rate and calming the nervous system
- decreases sympathetic activity by decreasing cortisol (stress hormone) levels, pacifying your fight or flight response, and relaxing the body
Consider the body’s biological response to being nervous: increased heart rate, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, increased sweat production, plus countless other internal and external signals. These are reactions triggered by the built-in alarm system in our nervous system. Many of us already have a subconscious toolkit of natural responses to these changes: deep or mindful breathing techniques, meditation or visualization, mindful relaxation of our muscles, counting sheep, or even talking a short walk or doing a routine task. In much the same way, deep touch pressure can help us regulate our body’s chemistry naturally and promote calmness and balance—inside and out.
Deep touch pressure also sparks the brain to release certain neurotransmitters that have an overall calming effect on the body. DTP encourages the production of serotonin, known as the happy hormone, which plays an important role in our feeling of wellbeing and regulates our mood. Serotonin also leads to melatonin production, which is what controls our sleep/wake cycles, thereby helping to balance our sleeping patterns. All of these chemicals work together to relax the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and stimulate healthy, restful sleep.
In order to create the effect of DTP, a weighted blanket should wrap around you and contour to your body. The body’s reaction to the comfort and pressure of the blanket isn’t just superficial; the weighted blanket mimics a hug, which floods our bodies with positive response signals. Studies show that this sensation helps reduce blood pressure and slow the heart rate. The chemical and physical reactions to deep touch pressure provided by weighted blankets work in perfect physical and physiological harmony. Once wrapped in the comforting hug of the weighted blanket, energy and stress levels decrease, mood-boosting hormones increase, and the body relaxes naturally.
Weighted blankets have been used for decades in clinics and hospitals to help calm and soothe patients who show signs of anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, or other sensory-related disorders. “Weighted blankets have been around for a long time, especially for kids with autism or behavioral disturbances,” says Dr. Cristina Cusin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Their effectiveness as a natural, drug-free, and versatile tool for reducing stress was widely known within the medical community. It’s only recently that these findings have made their way outside of the medical community and their healing properties applied in the home.
Weighted blankets are most widely known for their ability to reduce anxiety; however, the uses of weighted blankets extend far beyond basic anxiety disorders. By working on both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems within the nervous system to calm the body, this “body hug” sensation can provide comfort to those suffering from everything from insomnia to PTSD. A 2006 study from the Occupational Therapy in Mental Health Journal shows that of those tested, “63% reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.” To put it simply, weighted blankets provide comfort, calm the senses, and lift our mood.
But what if you don’t suffer from a diagnosed anxiety or stress disorder? A weighted blanket could still be a rich addition to your relaxation routine. Weighted blankets can increase relaxation and mood, help promote more restful sleep, and destress naturally, just by using it while relaxing on the couch or reading a book.
Weighted Blankets for Anxiety
For decades, hospitals and clinics have used weighted blankets on patients, including children, suffering from anxiety as a means to effectively calm their nerves. In our increasingly anxious society, it is not uncommon for everyone to experience some level of anxiety in their daily life. As many as 40 million Americans are affected by more serious and chronic anxiety disorders, many of which require the intervention of a professional or medication. For anyone experiencing any level of anxiety, weighted blankets give the option of a natural alternative to treating and reducing anxiety.
Anxiety can strike at any time of day, which is why the flexibility and versatility of weighted blankets is so critical. While medications are necessary and invaluable for many people, weighted blankets do not require a schedule or waiting period. Any time an anxiety attack surfaces, the grounding, calming hug of the weighted blanket is never far away.
Weighted Blankets for Sleep
One of the most popular uses of weighted blankets outside a clinical setting is reducing and easing insomnia. For those who toss and turn or wake up periodically throughout the night, provide the same snug comfort that a baby feels when they are swaddled in their crib before drifting off to sleep. The firm but gentle pressure created by a weighted blanket is a signal to the brain to release various neurotransmitters, indirectly melatonin, which is in charge of synchronizing our circadian rhythms. This means it times and regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Using a weighted blanket can help your body adopt a more regular and reliable sleeping schedule, and should ease the strain of insomnia, encouraging your body to give in to sleep. As you start to sleep more routinely and naturally, your overall health can improve greatly, and you should notice more energy in your day-to-day life.
Weighted blankets have also been shown to encourage the production of serotonin, which significantly impacts feelings of tranquility and creates a sense of peace, helping to stabilize mood and calm us down. Any stress, fear, or worry we are experiencing can activate the hypothalamus and suppress the natural release of melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our sleep cycles. This will in turn cause us to remain alert and can often exacerbate anxiety, perpetuating the cycle of insomnia.
It’s important to note that a weighted blanket isn’t meant to replace your existing comforter, but rather be used as a supplement. (For more on this common misconception, see Choosing the Right Weighted Blanket.) The main goal is to apply light, even pressure to the body, which is more effective when it contours around your body and fits snugly, making you feel like you’re being swaddled.
Other Uses for a Weighted Blanket
Autism Spectrum Disorders, Sensory Issues, ADD/ADHD: One of the original applications of weighted blankets was calming and soothing children with autism spectrum disorders, and it’s still used today. For children experiencing sensory issues, autism spectrum disorders, and ADD/ADHD children, a weighted blanket continues to be a popular, natural tool for calming the mind and relaxing the body. World renowned autism researcher Dr. Temple Grandin published a landmark 1999 study about the positive behavioral and physiological effects of deep pressure on children with autism. Weighted blankets provide this same deep pressure she talks about.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with veterans; however, PTSD can stem from any stressful event such as a car wreck or violent assault and effects millions of people. PTSD is comprised of a cluster of issues, many of which are addressed by a weighted blanket. The feelings of security brought on by the weighted hug of the blanket, as well as the release of mood-lifting serotonin, can help soothe and calm sufferers.
Stress: Good old-fashioned stress from work and life can have enormous effect on our health over time. While stress is a fact of life, the amount and intensity of stress is something we can control. Adding a weighted blanket to your daily routine can help keep stress at bay and dramatically reduce stress levels when they begin to spike. The deep touch pressure calms many high-energy functions of the body, prompting a relaxed heart rate and deep breathing. Just as we would help destress a child with physical touch, we as adults can experience that same cozy feeling under the embrace of a weighted blanket.
Now that we understand a bit more about how weighted blankets work and what their benefits are, it’s important to know that not all are created equally, and there are tons of options when it comes to weights and sizes. So how do you pick the right one? Blankets are available in a wide range of weights, with the most common being 10, 15, and 20 pounds, but other increments also exist, starting with around 5 pounds for children, and up to 30 pounds or more for adults. First things first, you have to decide if the blanket is for an adult or a child.
Once you have the intended user in mind, the most important factor in picking a weighted blanket is weight itself, both that of the blanket and the person to use it. The general consensus is that an effective blanket is between 8-12% of body weight, with many sources defaulting to a clean 10%. For children, experts usually recommend something on the lighter side, 10% plus a pound or two.
Remember, the ideal blanket will have therapeutic properties and help lull you to sleep or calm your nerves; it shouldn’t crush you or be uncomfortable. Make sure and consider what position you sleep in: if you’re a back or stomach sleeper you can handle a heavier blanket, while a side-sleeper might opt for a lighter blanket. Finally, you also have to consider any joint sensitivity, such as in the knees, hips, or back, in which case a better option would probably be something on the lighter side.
With all that said, for all the science and studies behind figuring out what size is right for you, personal preference still takes precedence. Some people find they really need the extra weight to fully benefit from the pressure of a weighted blanket and feel the soothing effects. Maybe you’ve tried your partner’s blanket, not expecting to like it because you weigh 50 pounds less, but you end up loving it and that extra cozy hug it provides. Sometimes it’s a game of trial and error; some couples end up finding the perfect balance sharing a heavier blanket, with the weight distributed over both of them.
There are a few concerns that shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to weighted blankets. They should never be used on babies or toddlers, and children should always be able to lift the blanket on their own, as a safety precaution. Too heavy does exist, but once again, it’s a matter of how comfortable or uncomfortable you feel with the blanket; if you’re afraid of too heavy a blanket, start with a lighter one, around 10% of your weight, and you can always move up from there.
Blanket filling also comes into play when talking about weight. You may have noticed that most weighted blankets contain either plastic pellets or glass beads. Plastic pellets are bigger, whereas glass beads are about the size of a grain of sand or even smaller, and heavier than plastic pellets. This means that because of their smaller size, not as many are required to achieve the same weight as plastic pellets, so a blanket containing glass beads will be thinner and less bulky.
A good place to start size-wise is a blanket that covers your body from the neck down. If you’re looking for a personal blanket to use around the house, let’s say to snuggle up under while you’re lounging on the couch, you can get anything from a twin on up, although a smaller blanket will definitely be more portable and easier to carry.
If you want a blanket specifically to sleep with, you’re going to want one that is the same size as the top of your bed or smaller—anything bigger that hangs over the edge and you risk the weight of it pulling the blanket off the bed. Therefore, a queen size weighted blanket should be equal to the top of the bed, not to a queen duvet. For example, a standard queen blanket that goes on a queen bed measures 90 inches by 90 inches, but for a weighted blanket, the smart choice would measure 60 inches by 80 inches, to fit perfectly on the top of the queen bed.
When browsing for a weighted blanket that’s meant to sleep with, it’s important not to compare weighted blankets with standard blanket sizes, as they are not necessarily made relative to regular blankets. A double blanket, which usually measures 80 inches by 90 inches, is meant to drape over the bed, but the weighted blanket is designed so that it fits over your body without too much overhang. A full is smaller than a queen, but once again, make sure and measure the top of your bed when deciding which size weighted blanket to get, as this is the most critical factor in making sure it does not slip off the edge.
If you’re not getting the blanket for your bed, you have a bit more leeway. Weighted blankets are also great just to use on localized parts of the body, for example just on your stomach to focus pressure there for extra comfort, or over your legs to combat restless leg syndrome. In this case, the size all depends on what works for you, and what you can comfortably carry around.
It’s pretty well known that weighted blankets help combat against insomnia, stress, or everyday anxiety, and put us in a better, calmer headspace. But what might be overlooked is what gives weighted blankets their weight; more specifically, what’s on the inside. No matter what the exact filler is, to be truly effective the filling must distribute evenly, to cover every little bit of your body with the same weight and pressure, stimulating your brain and body’s reaction to gentle touch and all of its benefits. Let’s take a deeper look at the most common components of weighted blankets.
Glass bead fillers are tiny, miniscule beads, resembling sugar crystals or grains of sand in look and feel. Glass beads are considered top quality, and the quietest filler when it comes to weighted blankets. They distribute much more evenly and smoothly throughout the blanket than other fillings, thereby wrapping you softly in a soothing hug. Because of their itty-bitty size, they are gentle enough for people with physical sensitivities.
Glass beads are also great for those who want the weight of the blanket without a bulky filler. Glass beads are heavier than some other fillers, so typically fewer are needed to achieve the desired weight, producing the same effect of deep touch pressure and reducing stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions, without weighing you down too much.
Plastic poly pellets are another popular filler; they are tiny plastic round beads, not quite as smooth as glass beads, so if you are hypersensitive or want the smoothest experience from your blanket, these might not be the best option for you.
Plastic pellets may also be on the noisy side as the blanket shifts and the pellets run across one another. Unwanted and unpleasant noise can be a real buzzkill if you’re looking for a way to relax. Sometimes these plastic pellets or other fillers can be interspersed with cotton in the blanket, which might reduce the noise.
A filler you will see less often are steel beads, and like plastic, the main drawback to using this type of bead is that it can be lumpy and noisy. These beads are similar to glass beads in that they are heavier than plastic, so fewer are needed to fill a blanket. This means they make for a thinner blanket because you get much more weight out of a smaller size.
Other fillers exist, anything from sand, to blankets made out of chainmail themselves(!), but you’re not as likely to come across those unless you’re specifically looking. As for the blanket itself and the fabric that’s on the outside, these vary as much as regular comforters, with polyester and cotton as two of the most prevalent materials employed.
When it comes to weighted blankets specifically, a polyester fabric often described as ‘minky’ has gained much popularity. These so-called minky, plush fabrics create an immediate draw because they are soft and cuddly. Although soft, these plush fabrics are 100% polyester and therefore do not breathe very well, meaning they can make for a hot, stuffy night. For a child or adult who is hot-natured, a polyester blanket can end up being uncomfortable to sleep with. Any allergies or sensitive skin conditions can also be affected by synthetic fabrics like polyester.
Cotton is the obvious choice when it comes to fabric that is both safe and comfortable. When cotton is used in weighted blankets, given that it is 100% pure cotton, it provides a much more breathable environment, and you don’t need to worry as much about what season it is or if you’re a hot sleeper; cotton is light and pleasant year-round.
In the end, much like when determining adequate size and weight, the that comprise a weighted blanket come down to what you personally like best, and what you feel more comfortable with.
Like all bedding, weighted blankets run the gamut when it comes to the quality and price range of what you can find available on the market today. Don’t be fooled by low or high price points, this doesn’t speak to quality and resultant experience you’ll get from the blanket. When dealing with your health, both mental and physical, this shouldn’t be the time to let price be the only determining factor. Materials that go into making the blanket as well as steps taken to ensure quality fabrication methods affect the price. Plastic pellets are cheaper than glass beads, so this could affect price.
Any special fabrics, like organic cotton, require extra effort to attain higher quality materials, which is important for a product that comes in direct contact with your skin. This provides an even better experience for you, so that the weighted blanket is as safe and comfortable as can be to ensure a more soothing, therapeutic experience.
A quick comparison will reveal that most weighted blankets will start in the lower $100s and can go up to $200 and more. There are so many factors when researching which weighted blanket is best for you and your needs, but remember to read thoroughly before buying; some blankets aren’t machine-washable—a trip to the laundromat every time you need to clean could end being a big extra cost. Some companies offer lifetime guarantees, so you can plan on only buying a weighted blanket once to last you as long as you need. Even though a brand might appear to have a heftier price tag at first, it could end up being a better investment in the long run.
How to Use
We know that weighted blankets administer deep touch pressure to the body, which sets off a number of positive activities in our brain, releasing mood-boosting serotonin, while lowering our heart rate, among other great perks that can lead to better sleep. So how exactly do we use a weighted blanket to see the most beneficial effects?
There isn’t really one “right” way to use a weighted blanket, you can use it overnight while sleeping, during the day while laying down or seated, and weight-permitting, it can even be wrapped around your shoulders while standing. What determines how you use it depends on what kind of outcome you’re looking to get from the blanket.
Insomniacs will most likely use this blanket as a sleep aid in bed, but to be in need of a better night’s sleep you don’t necessarily have to suffer from insomnia. For anyone who struggles with sleeping a full, uninterrupted night, whether it’s thanks to high stress levels, or your mind racing a mile a minute once you hit the sack, or anxiety that keeps you awake, sleeping under a little extra weight can curtail and alleviate any number of sleep issues.
That being said, using a more therapeutic weighted blanket in place of a comforter is by no means the sole purpose of weighted blankets. They have just as many, if not more applications during waking hours. The calming and grounding power of a weighted blanket has the ability to soothe all kinds of afflictions. Wrapping a weighted blanket around you during a panic attack can act as a real mollifying device, as you feel the weight of the blanket like the gentle touch of a friend.
Many people incorporate weighted blankets into their daily lives to combat stress, as a part of healthy meditation. If you’re a nervous traveler, have trouble sleeping in strange places, or like to bring something familiar with you on the road, a weighted blanket is like taking a little natural travel-therapy with you, for a quick shot of some calming hormones and a warming embrace.
Caring for Your Weighted Blanket
Whether you’ve decided to take the plunge and make your own blanket (See How to Make a Weighted Blanket Yourself), or you’ve fallen in love with one that you’re ready to buy, you’ll need to know how to care for it.
Remember that depending on the material of your blanket and type of fill, there may be special care instructions. Cheaper blankets may use plastics that can melt in high heat or synthetic fabrics that will not withstand washing and drying. Always check your care instructions before beginning.
First consider the size and bulk of a blanket; for anything over 20 pounds, save your own washing machine from the trauma and make a trip to the local laundromat. You can also do a little detective work to learn about your washing machines max load capacities to get a better sense of what it can handle. If you have a lighter blanket, you can most likely wash it in your machine at home on a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent. Also look for stains and spot clean when necessary. Treating your stains before washing can prevent them from setting into the fabric during the washing and drying process.
If you’re not sold on the idea of washing your weighted blanket, or worried it’ll be too rough for your machine, a duvet cover is a great way to keep your blanket fresh without the hassle of washing it directly. There might be an easy fix if your weighted blanket maker also offers a duvet cover to match, like Baloo does (but our blankets are machine-washable too!). Since not all blankets are the same size, and often don’t align with standard bedding sizes, finding a cover from the same brand is the safest bet.
Steer clear of fabric softeners, bleach, and no ironing. If you’re going to hang dry your blanket, don’t hang from one edge—this could be too much weight.
DIYer’s, take note: it is possible to make your own weighted blanket, and dare we say, quite popular. If you are crafty enough with a pair of scissors and sewing machine, multiple tutorials exist on the internet to help you make your blanket a reality. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fabric (Consider a soft, sturdy, but breathing able fabric that can also be washed easily.)
- Weighted stuffing beads(Look at your local craft or hardware store. Remember that your beads should be the right size and material to stay within your blanket design without making too much noise.)
- Sewing machine
- Measuring tape/ruler
Determine the Size
Your blanket doesn’t need to be as large as a quilt or comforter, in fact it’s better if it doesn’t have any overhang off the sides of the bed. It only needs to cover the person who will be using it. You’ll also need to decide what size you want the squares to be that will contain the filling. A good standard size is anywhere from 3 to 6 inches.
Make sure there is a decent border around the blanket. The measurements for the blanket should be a multiple of whatever size you decide for the squares, plus 4 inches. For example, if you decide on ten 4-inch pockets for width, and fourteen 4-inch pockets for the length, you should end up with a blanket that measures, 44 inches x 60 inches (4” x 10 = 40”, 40 + 4 = 44” and 4” x 14 = 56”, 56 + 4 = 60”).
Now get ready for a little math (sorry!): after you determine the total weight using the guidelines we talked about earlier (so probably around 10% of the body weight of the end user), if you’re using a heftier fabric, you may need to subtract the weight of the fabric from the total weight; then with the remaining number, divide that between the amount of squares you have (in our example it’s 140 squares, since we have one side of 10 and one side of 14). And don’t forget, that 16 US oz. = 1 lb—this could come in handy when weighing the fillers. Now you know how much weight to distribute to each square pocket, and using the scale, you can divvy up the weight as necessary.
Now you stitch your fabric together on three sides, leaving two inches for the border and then stitch vertical columns. You’re going to be filling each column with your weight of choice, one row at a time. Since you’ve calculated the amount to fill each square with, drop only that amount down each column. Once you have filled all of the columns, you stitch across that row, repeating until you have completed each row and filled to the top of your blanket, hopefully if your math was right, leaving a two-inch border. Some people have found that as you get closer to finishing rows, a funnel might come in handy to fill the pockets—if you stitch each pocket almost completely shut leaving enough room for a funnel, this keeps the filling from spilling out.
If you’re wondering where to find supplies to make your own blanket, most of them are commonplace enough to find at most craft stores. To give your blanket a touch of luxury you might want an upgrade from plastic pellets and instead fill with microglass beads, which will also make for a quieter, less bulky blanket. In this case, internet sources would probably be the most reliable source, where you can find many suppliers with American-made glass beads.
Even though you have the possibility of making your own weighted blanket, that doesn’t mean you have to, nor does it mean it’ll give you the best experience. Blankets made by Baloo Living, for example, are eco-friendly, made with 100% cotton and lead-free glass microbeads. Our blankets are free from over 100 chemicals known to be harmful to human health. On top of that, we guarantee our products for life—if there is ever an issue with your blanket due to craftsmanship or quality, we will replace it at no cost. If you get a Baloo blanket, it’s a win-win; you don’t have to worry about sourcing your own materials, and going to the trouble of trying to make a quality, comfortable, and most importantly effective weighted blanket. We do all that for you, with your wellbeing in mind, using the best materials out there and creating our blankets with a simple yet attractive aesthetic, all in breathable cotton so you can use it year-round. You can stick to what you know, and we’ll do what we know: eco-friendly, luxury weighted blankets for your comfort and health.