Sleep is an issue in my house. And while the coronavirus safer-at-home orders have helped some and hurt others get some shut eye.
Normally, I sleep pretty well. I tend to have a routine sleep schedule: read before bed, lights out before 12 midnight, then I wake up between 2 and 4 a.m. to feed the cat and go to the bathroom and then again around 6 or 7 a.m.. This happens every night, both before and during the pandemic. In addition, I sometimes sleep with ear plugs because we live in a small apartment.
My son, A., has another routine. Falling asleep has always been an issue for him. At the suggestion of the neurologist, he takes some melatonin 30 minutes beforehand. When he does crawl into bed, he prefers to fall asleep to a podcast, usually about Godzilla (kind of his own version of ear plugs in the opposite). He also likes the room cold and an extra blanket for a little weight. In the winter, he will use a weighted blanket. He tends to average about 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. The stay-at-home orders have allowed him to tap into his natural sleep rhythm more easily.
Now, my husband doesn’t sleep—never has. In fact, it is common for him to not fall asleep until at least 2 a.m. and sometimes 4 a.m. Even then, he doesn’t sleep well. I am not sure why, but my feeling is that he hasn’t adopted a sleep schedule that prepares his body for sleep. He tends to exercise late at night, he spends time on his phone (though he has stopped doing this after a certain time) and he watches television. But there is something that might be a game changer for him…my son’s weighted blanket.
When A. started using the weighted blanket, he immediately started experiencing sounder sleep. Not only did he fall asleep faster but he stayed asleep. I have used the blanket occasionally and had the same result. But my husband hasn’t wanted to use it, until the other night. Our other blankets were being used or in the laundry and the weighted blanket was the only one available. So he used it…and he slept well.
If you don’t know what a weighted blanket is, it is basically a comforter filled with little beads or that have little weights sewn in throughout. They tend to be marketed to people with anxiety, ADHD, and autism, but they can also help the normal restless sleeper. How? The theory is that when you feel grounded—which having a weight upon you can do, it may help calm and relax you.
Licensed occupational therapist Tina Champagne, M.Ed. once told me that her research found weighted blankets helped reduce anxiety and foster the ability to calm, fall asleep and stay asleep for approximately 75% of her study participants. And a recent scientific review published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy comes to the same conclusion: weighted blankets could be used to lessen anxiety. But when it comes to looking for a tool to combat insomnia, there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether weighted blankets are helpful. This review looked at research available in 2018.
A more recent study of 120 subjects with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was published in the June 15, 2020, issue of Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. This study examined how weighted blankets affected the daytime symptoms of these mental issues and the insomnia that often accompanies them. During the study’s four weeks, there was an improvement in daytime symptoms (fatigue, depression and anxiety). The use of weighted blankets also resulted in significantly better sleep-maintenance.
We and my friends and family who also tried weighted blankets to solve their sleep ills have had similar experiences.
How to buy a weighted blanket
As for what type of blanket and amount of weight that is most helpful, it varies, Champagne told me. “There is no therapeutic modality that is one size fits all.”
A good rule of thumb is that it should be about 10 percent of your bodyweight. For instance, if you weigh 130 pounds, look for a blanket that is 13 pounds. Ultimately, you don’t want to feel pinned down by the blanket, you want to be able to move underneath it. Here’s a chart to determine how heavy your weighted blanket should be. Other things to consider are the texture and material of the blanket.