With teen anxiety and sleep issues on the rise, parents are seeking natural approaches to support their children’s well-being and mental health. A weighted blanket is one such tool. Research shows that weighted blankets for anxiety are effective and have no side effects. Therefore, they can serve as one facet of a comprehensive approach to teen wellness.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket is a therapeutic blanket that is designed to be heavier than a regular blanket. Filled with plastic pellets, glass beads, or other materials, depending on the maker, a weighted blanket wraps a person’s body with additional pressure.
Hence, a weighted blanket for anxiety simulates the feel of a gentle hug. According to clinical psychologist Lara Fielding, PsyD, author of Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up, weighted blankets provide a sense of “tactile grounding in the body.”
In other words, weighted blankets help anxious teens feel more secure and more firmly rooted on the earth.
Why Weighted Blankets for Anxiety Are Important
Many Americans, of all ages, are struggling with anxiety, stress, and depression. For teenagers, anxiety is a prevalent challenge, with one in five American teens experiencing an anxiety disorder at some point in their adolescence. Moreover, according to a 2015 report by the Child Mind Institute, 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not receiving the help they need.
Beyond alleviating anxiety issues, a weighted blanket can also help with sleep disorders and insomnia. According to the American Sleep Association, 30 percent of Americans have chronic insomnia, and only 15 percent of teens sleep for a full the suggested minimum eight hours on school nights.
Since anxiety and worry are the primary causes of insomnia, a weighted blanket can make a positive difference.
How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
How can sleeping with a weighted blanket relieve everyday stress, childhood anxiety, and insomnia? The key lies in the science of deep pressure stimulation and deep pressure therapy.
Developmental psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Anna Jean Ayres developed the theories behind deep pressure stimulation. A pioneer in the field of sensory integration theory, Dr. Ayres described how deep pressure therapy directly addresses the classic “fight or flight” response. This response is central to the reactive fear mechanism in the human brain. By decreasing the level of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, deep pressure therapy combats this adverse reaction in situations where there is no immediate danger, by promoting relaxation and calm.
A weighted blanket provides an experience of deep pressure therapy that is easily accessible for those dealing with difficult emotions. In scientific studies, deep touch pressure in the form of weighted blankets increases endorphin levels. When endorphin levels in the brain increase, the “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine are released. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that promotes calm and relaxation, while dopamine controls the reward or pleasure center of the brain.
Thus, weighted blankets help overcome anxiety and insomnia by fostering sensations and feelings of pleasure and peace. By relaxing the nervous system, weighted blankets for anxiety offer a safe, effective, and non-pharmaceutical approach to promoting relaxation and better sleep.
From Deep Pressure Therapy to Weighted Blankets
Since the initial discoveries of Dr. Ayres, deep pressure therapy has been adapted into weighted blanket technology, as well as hugging machines that can be employed as therapeutic aids for children with developmental disorders. The weighted technology has also been adapted into the form of weighted vests for calming anxious dogs and cats.
Temple Grandin, the well-known biologist and autism spokesperson, has been a champion of deep pressure therapy and weighted blankets for autism. She invented a “squeeze machine” that offers the same benefits as weighted blankets.
In an article first published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Grandin wrote, “Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that … is relaxing and calming.” Moreover, in a test with college students, Grandin found that about half of the students felt more relaxed after using the machine for just five or 10 minutes.
Studies Reveal Weighted Blanket Benefits
Since doing clinical studies on children is difficult, most of the studies on weighted blanket benefits have been conducted with adults. Also, weighted blankets have a long history of use in a type of occupational therapy called sensory integration therapy. Since occupational therapy is typically done with adults, the primary subjects of these studies are adults. Still, the results can be translated to teenagers and adolescents.
In a study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of weighted blankets on more than 30 adults with anxiety issues or stress complaints. Before and after sleeping with the weighted blanket, each participant underwent a series of tests. Researchers measured several of the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety, including blood pressure, pulse rate, and electrodermal activity—the electrical activity on the surface of the skin.
Subsequently, the study found that 63 percent of participants reported lower anxiety after using the blanket. Moreover, 78 percent of study participants enjoyed the calming quality of the weighted blanket. With a weighted blanket, subjects found it easier to let go of mental stressors and fall sleep peacefully.
Based on the success of the study, researchers concluded that weighted blankets for anxiety are useful as a non-invasive tool. As a form of therapy, a weighted blanket promotes feelings of safety and security.
Weighted Blankets Improve Breathing and Combat Insomnia
Many parents fear that a weighted blanket will impede the breathing of their child, making it difficult or even dangerous to stay asleep. Instead, the extra pounds appear to relax the respiratory system. Under a weighted blanket, a teenager begins to breathe more evenly and rhythmically. Thus, sleeping with a weighted blanket leads to better sleep and mood outcomes.
In terms of a weighted blanket’s effect on insomnia, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders also found that weighted blankets had a positive impact on sleep. The study researchers stated:
“The weighted chain blanket used in the present study had a positive impact on sleep, both objectively and subjectively, where a number of physiological and behavioral measures were improved during weighted blanket use… When the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep, with a decrease in movements. Subjectively, they believed that using the blanket provided them with a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.”
A Personal Story of Weighted Blanket Benefits
In February of 2018, Jia Tolentino shared her experience with weighted blankets in a New Yorker article titled, “The Seductive Confinement of a Weighted Blanket in an Anxious Time.” In the article, Tolentino, a regular contributor to the magazine, described how thoughts about work, politics, social media stresses, school shootings, and family kept her up late into the night. Resulting insomnia, plagued both her and her boyfriend.
Researching weighted blanket benefits, she found a Kickstarter project and borrowed a prototype from the company. The results were immediately positive for both her and her boyfriend. As Tolentino writes, “I couldn’t move or see anything, which felt wonderful. That night I slept so deeply… The blanket enacts a fantasy of immobilization that is especially seductive in a world of ever-expanding obligations—to work, to monetize, to take action, to perform.”
Her experience is similar to that of many people who have tried weighted blankets and found that they helped to erase the stresses of the day and promote a restful night.
How to Choose Weighted Blankets for Anxiety
The cost of a weighted blanket ranges from $50 to around $300, depending on size, weight, and style. Not every weighted blanket weighs the same. The appropriate blanket weight corresponds to a user’s body weight and estimated age. Below is a chart that shows the recommended blanket weight for most ages and body types. For the majority of teenagers, a weighted blanket between 10 and 20 pounds is ideal. Parents can calculate the exact weight the weight their child needs by using the chart below.
Parents can purchase weighted blankets on Amazon, Etsy, and online shops devoted to these products, such as Magic Blanket and Mosaic Weighted Blankets. In addition, the National Autism Resources website offers tips on sourcing expert-approved weighted blankets.
In summary, weighted blankets provide a helpful and accessible tool for teenagers who have insomnia and other anxiety-related challenges. Since weighted blankets for anxiety are non-invasive and easy to try, many healthcare professionals recommend them as a simple way to support teens’ mental and physical health.
J Child & Adolesc Psychopharm. 2009 Jun; (2)1.
Occ Ther in Mental Health. 2008; 24(1).
J Sleep Med Disord. 2015 May; 2(3): 1022.