Anxiety is a thief. It steals our peace, our joy, and our health. My anxiety steals my sleep, so I decided to explore for myself the connection between anxiety and weighted blankets.
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Anxiety interferes with every area of your life. Even situational anxiety, or anxiety related to a current/acute situation as opposed to chronic anxiety, can impact your health on a large scale. One of the most powerful ways that anxiety influences its victims is to rob them of sleep. We decided to test out the idea of anxiety and weighted blankets to see if there is merit to it.
We have to sleep to survive
Sleep is imperative to good health. In fact, not getting enough restorative sleep every night is a safety issue. Sleep is so much more than just taking a break – it is a way to restore energy, engage in tissue growth and repair, and regulate certain hormones. When we don’t get enough sleep, even our immune systems are impacted.
Sleep is not just necessary for physical health needs. Our moods are soundly impacted by the quality of sleep we get every night. For the millions of individuals who struggle with anxiety, sleep is crucial to managing related symptoms. However, most anxiety sufferers also report extremely poor sleep patterns.
The National Sleep Foundation reiterates the strong connection between restorative sleep and mood function. It also addresses the importance of understanding when anxiety may be impacting sleep cycles. I happen to be one of those people who find themselves with racing thoughts at bedtime and an inability to stop fear from invading, more nights than not. In fact, my abnormal sleep cycle is one of the major reasons I grew interested in the science behind anxiety and weighted blankets.
An anxiety sleep cycle
My sleep cycle closely resembles a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. I start with great intentions, which quickly become peppered with self-doubt, confusion, and panic. My mind darts from one thought to another, with little connection between them. The sense of doom that envelopes me in the evenings is usually enough to chase away any potential for restorative sleep. Most of the time, I just want to survive the night.
If I actually manage to fall asleep before midnight, I typically wake up around 2am. In an almost predictable way, my brain jolts me awake and immediately starts reminding me of all of the answers I was not able to find when trying to fall asleep. Thus starts round 2 of what I like to call the fun house of nighttime torture.
Fast forward to morning, when I am groggy, my brain is fuzzy, and I have big enough bags under my eyes to pack for a 2-week vacation. After sleepless nights, I zombie walk through the day and get absolutely nothing accomplished. On top of my impaired functioning, I also find that heightened triggers to my anxiety tend to abound. This sets me up for another night of trying to solve all of the world’s problems instead of going to sleep.
If this sounds familiar, then you probably have been searching for the same answers I am. Since I know that it’s almost impossible to do good research when you’re sleep deprived (on top of being anxious), let me help!
Anxiety and weighted blankets?
When I first started hearing of weighted blankets, it was in the clinical therapy world. Mental health has known for decades that certain types of sensory input can be calming. Clinicians have been using items such as weighted vests and blankets for children with autism, ADHD, and a myriad of other issues. Let’s talk about the science behind weighted blankets.
Deep pressure therapy is a type of therapy that has shown promising effects on many disorders, including anxiety. It is often done in an occupational therapy setting but has grown to other clinical areas as well. There have been several studies conducted that show an improvement in anxiety symptoms with the use of deep pressure therapy. Our senses are incredibly important to our survival, hence the astounding effects of engaging those senses in any type of healing.
Weighted blankets are a form of deep pressure therapy
Weighted blankets affect our proprioceptive system, which is mainly concerned with the position and movement of our bodies. These blankets give our brain a better idea of where our bodies are in relation to space. Sounds complicated, but it is actually a very simple concept.
Have you ever swaddled a baby, or needed a hug on a bad day? All of these are forms of proprioceptive input, and all of them impact our nervous system. When you understand the basic concepts, it is fairly easy to see the connection between anxiety and weighted blankets.
How to choose the right weighted blanket for your anxiety
The variety of weighted blankets available is completely overwhelming. To help compliment your own research on choosing the right blanket, I have included some basic guidance on deciding which weighted blanket is your perfect match.
Most experts advise to pick a weighted blanket that is approximately 10% of your body weight. Obviously for youth, these blankets are much lighter than for adults. This is a difficult part of the decision however – for some individuals, they may prefer a heavier blanket while others feel lighter is the way to go. You know yourself better than anyone does, so use the general rule of 10% of body weight as a guide and listen to your instincts on this one.
Another very important option to consider is whether your blanket is composed of glass beads or plastic pellets. Glass beads are smaller and heavier than their plastic counterparts, leading to a thinner blanket. Generally, glass beads will also lead to a more expensive product overall. After much research, I opted for glass beads for my weighted blanket.
Last, but not least, weighted blankets come in a variety of sizes. I chose a very large size, as I hated the thought of losing my precious wrapping halfway through a cocoon of calm. I also really love to snuggle completely under the blankets, so I felt like a larger blanket would better suit my tastes. This was a win for me, as the blanket I purchased turned out to be the perfect size (60”x80”) for my needs. I can easily cover all of me with plenty left over, and I have not felt that losing my blanket mid-sleep was going to be a problem. I also opted for a weighted blanket that has a removable (and washable) cover; anxiety does not sit well with the thought of an unwashed blanket.
Some disclaimers about using weighted blankets
Weighted blankets are not for everyone. I would not try a weighted blanket with children due to the risk of suffocation – especially children under the age of 5. I also would recommend doing some soul searching prior to purchasing, on whether deep pressure stimulation is something you would enjoy. People with claustrophobia, for example, need to steer clear of weighted blankets. It should go without saying that use of substances of any kind probably would not play well with sleeping under a weighted blanket. Additionally, anyone with circulation issues, breathing issues, diabetes, fragile skin, or even difficulties with blood pressure should not use a weighted blanket. As always, follow the manufacturer safety and use guidelines – they exist for a reason.
Was my weighted blanket worth it?
Down to the most important question – did the blanket work to calm my anxiety at night? For the most part, yes. I cannot say fully, resoundingly, yes every single time because there are some nights that it actually feels a little overwhelming. These tend to be the nights when panic attacks are extremely intense, and I am struggling to even breathe evenly. However, for my run-of-the-mill, anxiety clouded, distressed mood nights, this blanket was a win!
What I have found to be the most immediate benefit of this blanket is getting to sleep faster. This is a lifesaver when you spend the first 4 hours of your night rehashing every discussion and interaction you have ever had. I have even attempted to time the nights spent with my blanket and nights without it, in the name of objective measurement. I have definitely noticed a pattern of falling asleep at least 1-2 hours earlier with the blanket. I tend to wake up fewer times throughout the night as well.
Bottom line: if you struggle falling asleep for extended periods of time because of your anxiety, and wake up several times a night with a hard time getting back to sleep, a weighted blanket will probably help fix some of this. Because of the high cost of weighted blankets, I looked at mine as an investment before purchasing it. I did my research and went with my gut on what would work for me. It has turned out to be well worth what I spent on it, and when I use it regularly I have absolutely noticed improvement in my sleep patterns.
If you think your needs may be a match to mine, you can explore the very blanket I purchased here.