Could swaddling yourself in a 30lb blanket help send you off to sleep?

Could swaddling yourself in a 30lb blanket help send you off to sleep?

  • Weighted blankets can help create a sense of security and aide relaxation 
  • Sales of the ‘Gravity Blanket’ rocketed to a whopping £14million last year 
  • Weighted blankets can reduce the body’s stress hormone, and encourage the production of serotonin

Do you feel in need of a hug at the end of a hard day? 

Now, you don’t even have to turn to a loved one, thanks to the advent of ‘heavy bedding’.

It uses special heavyweight blankets to tap into a deep desire to feel ‘smushed’ (or, to use a more antiquated term, swaddled) and is said to reduce stress and anxiety, and aid sleep.

Made from cotton, with dozens of tiny ‘panels’ filled with glass beads stitched into them, these heavy blankets can weigh anything from 10lbs to 30lbs, compared with just a few pounds for a normal blanket.

The theory is that the weight creates a feeling of security, aiding relaxation and sleep. Last year, sales of one such product, the Gravity Blanket had rocketed to £14million, and it was named as one of the best inventions of 2018 by Time magazine.

Weighted blankets can create a feeling of security and relaxation which helps people fall asleep faster

But do they live up to their promise?

‘We sleep when we feel safe and, for some people, using a weighted blanket replicates the feeling of being in a cocoon,’ explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep expert and adviser for bed manufacturer Silentnight.

‘It can help you let go of the day, become still and stop restlessness — all of which are conducive to deep and restorative sleep.’

The mechanism behind them is deep pressure stimulation (DPS), a soft, even pressure applied to the body providing the feeling of a firm hug, swaddling or massage.

Research shows that DPS can reduce cortisol levels, the body’s stress hormone, and encourage the production of serotonin, a hormone linked to feelings of happiness. When nerve fibres in the skin, called C-tactile afferents, are stroked it triggers the release of ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which makes us feel happy and secure. This could also explain why weighted blankets might have a calming effect, says Francis McGlone, a professor of neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University.

The concept of heavy bedding isn’t new; parents have swaddled newborns for centuries, and weighted blankets or vests have been used for more than a decade to soothe children with autism.

Around 70 per cent of those with autism sleep poorly because of differences in their melatonin production — the hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle – as well as the way they respond to their environment.

The theory is that a weighted blanket might reduce stress by changing how they process sensory information.

However, while there is anec-dotal evidence that weighted blankets work, studies have failed to come up with scientific proof.

The mechanism behind them is deep pressure stimulation (DPS), a soft, even pressure applied to the body providing the feeling of a firm hug, swaddling or massage. Stock picture

After being contacted by parents who were using weighted blankets on their autistic children, Professor Paul Gringras, a children’s sleep expert at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, decided to put them to the test.

In his trial, 67 children with autism and a severe sleep disorder used either a weighted blanket or one of a normal weight that looked identical for two weeks, and then swapped to the other blanket.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics in 2014, found the blankets ‘did not help children with autism sleep longer, fall asleep faster or wake less often’.

‘The negative results were important to know about, but disappointing for families of children with autism, as sleep is such a huge problem for them,’ Professor Gringras told Good Health.

Alarmingly, two deaths have been linked to the misuse of weighted blankets: a nine-year-old autistic boy died after being rolled up in a heavy blanket and a seven-month-old, who had been covered with a weighted blanket designed for children over three.

The blankets come in different weights, and Dr Sally Payne, a professional adviser for children, young people and families at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, warns the weight should be appropriate (roughly 10 per cent of your body weight).

‘To prevent the risk of suffocation, take the blanket off the child when they are asleep,’ she says.

In healthy adults, a few studies have had more positive results.

A U.S. study in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health journal in 2008, involving 32 adults with anxiety, found two-thirds were less anxious if they used a 30lb blanket.

Meanwhile, a Swedish study, published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders in 2015, found sleep quality improved when 31 insomniacs used weighted blankets.

There is, of course, a drawback: they can make you feel very hot.

And some sleep experts say the blankets, which cost up to £145, are an expensive gimmick.

‘There is no evidence they provide any health benefit,’ says Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert and member of the British Sleep Society. ‘If you like to feel cocooned, make your bed the old-fashioned way, with a blanket and sheet.’

Dr Guy Leschziner, a consultant neurologist and sleep physician at Guy’s Hospital in London, agrees: ‘There is no real research on these blankets or how they work. But if you like the sensation and you find it relaxing and comforting, then that probably will help you sleep and it’s unlikely to do any harm.’ 

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