This article was updated on September 10, 2021.
A night spent tossing and turning can be an increasingly frustrating experience. As the minutes and hours crawl by, many people can’t help but think about how exhausted they’re going to feel by the time morning finally arrives.
This line of thinking, of course, only ramps up the anxiety and makes it even more difficult to fall asleep and salvage what’s left of the night.
If the scenario described above is an almost nightly occurrence for you, a study just released by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a novel, easy-to-implement suggestion on how to get some better sleep. Switch out your usual comforter for a weighted blanket.
According to the research, conducted in Stockholm, Sweden at the Karolinska Institutet, insomnia patients who started sleeping with a weighted chain blanket reported better sleep quality, an easier time falling asleep, and less daytime fatigue.
We all know that a person’s bed setup is an incredibly personal matter. Everyone has their bedtime routine and quirks, and that all starts with a carefully selected mattress, comforter, and set of pillows. So, while many reading this may be hesitant at first to even consider switching out their current comforter, transitioning to a weighted blanket looks to be well worth the initial adjustment period.
In total, 120 people (32% men, 68% women) took part in this research. Every participant had already been diagnosed with clinical insomnia, as well as at least one other “co-occurring psychiatric disorder” (bipolar disorder, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder, etc).
To start, each study subject was randomly told to either sleep at home using a chain-weighted blanket each night for a full four weeks, or sleep at home for the same amount of time using a lighter, more traditional blanket.
Originally, participants in the weighted blanket group were given chain blankets weighing roughly 17 pounds. However, 10 people in this group felt those blankets were just too heavy, so these individuals were given a 13-pound weighted chain blanket instead. Meanwhile, those placed in the “control blanket” group were given a much lighter plastic chain blanket weighing 3.3 pounds.
Throughout the study, each participant’s insomnia severity levels were calculated using the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), and both sleep & daytime activity was measured via wrist actigraphy.
By the end of the four-week experimental period, sleep improvement differences among the two groups were staggering. Just under 60% of people placed in the weighted blanket group saw a 50% or more drop in their ISI score (indicating significantly less severe insomnia). In comparison, only 5.4% of control blanket group participants enjoyed the same decrease.
An ISI score of seven or lower is indicative of insomnia remission (the disappearance of insomnia symptoms). By the end of the four weeks, 42.2% of weighted blanket participants were classified as being in remission, while only 3.6% of those in the control group reached the same distinction.
All in all, those numbers mean that weighted blanket group participants were a whopping 26 times more likely to reach at least a 50% decrease in insomnia severity in comparison to the other group. Similarly, those using a weighted blanket were close to 20 times more likely to reach insomnia remission status.
It’s also worth mentioning that many patients assigned to use a weighted blanket reported improvements in their anxiety and or depression levels as well.
Why are weighted blankets so helpful when it comes to a restful night’s sleep? Perhaps it’s the extra warmth they provide, or it could be that cozy sensation of hibernation that comes along with being tucked in tightly. In any case, the study’s authors have a few theories.
“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,” comments principle investigator Dr. Mats Alder, consultant psychiatrist in the department of clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet, in a 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.”
“I was surprised by the large effect size on insomnia by the weighted blanket and pleased by the reduction of levels of both anxiety and depression,” he adds.
After the initial four-week experimental period had passed, participants were also given the option to continue (or start) using a weighted blanket for another 12 months. Many opted to do so, including some who had been a part of the control group originally. These individuals eventually reported similar sleep improvements to the original experimental weighted blanket group. By the end of those 12 months, 92% of weighted blanket users had enjoyed improvements to their sleep habits and 78% were in insomnia remission.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.