What Is a Weighted Blanket?

6 min read

weighted wool blankets by Thula Tula child and mother under a Basotho Heritage Blanket

Weighted blankets are used as a deep pressure stimulation (DPS) home therapy to improve sleep quality, among other health benefits. 

Research indicates that people respond positively to certain types of touch like casual hugs or perhaps a gentle but firm massage. Included in touch are more clinical therapies like occupational and physical therapies, chiropractic therapies, and the use of weighted blankets. Touch has great healing properties, and weighted blankets improve sleep quality, which is recommended for recovery and the restoration of good health.

We look at weighted blankets as a touch therapy to discover how to restore the essential quality sleep needed to maintain good health.

How Are Weighted Blankets Made and Who Are They Intended For?

A weighted blanket is a normal blanket made from different types of fabric like cotton, linen, flannel, bamboo, and rayon, but with weight added to the blanket. The added weight or fill is evenly distributed over the blanket and can be in the form of sand, pebbles, microfiber beads, micro glass beads, or grains.

Wool is also used to make weighted blankets, but despite its many benefits like being fire resistant, antimicrobial, antibacterial, having outstanding thermal control through wicking, and being breathable, wool is not commonly used to manufacture weighted blankets.

The Basotho heritage African blanket closeup weighted blanket wool blanket

There are two basic types of weighted blankets; knitted and duvet style blankets. The knitted type make use of thicker or dense yarn, which limits the number of materials needed to create the blanket 

Duvet-style weighted blankets have an inner part of the blanket, which comprises very small individual sewn together pockets containing the fill. The outer part of the blanket is normally soft and comforting, with the weight of the blanket ranging between 7 and 30 pounds.

For adult use, a weighted blanket should weigh approximately 10% of your body weight. The same applies to older children and teenagers but can be about one or two pounds heavier. 

Weighted blankets are not intended for babies and toddlers under two years old due to the high risk of suffocation. Other people at risk are those who have asthma, claustrophobia, sleep apnea, and other raspatory conditions.

Therapy using weighted blankets should only be considered if recommended by a medical professional as underlying medical conditions, and medical history may negatively influence the intended therapy and the user.

Thula Tula weighted blankets black and white Mud cloth design African

Weighted blankets are also called gravity blankets. Let’s see what effect a weighted blanket has on the user and who it is intended for. Research has shown that weighted blankets help the body increase the production of serotonin and melatonin while decreasing the cortisol level.

  • Serotonin is a mood-stabilizing hormone that affects your entire body. It improves communication between your brain and nervous system, which gives better control over the sensory issue. Serotonin is also said to improve sleeping, eating, digestion, and bone health. Too little serotonin will cause depression, whereas too much can lead to excessive nerve cell activity.
  • Melatonin is a hormone produced in response to darkness and helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms, which is your 24-hour internal clock that helps regulate sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block the production of melatonin and upset your normal sleep pattern.
  • Cortisol is a stress or threat control hormone released by your adrenal glands, which also releases adrenalin to cope with a perceived threat. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream, which in turn increases the amount used by your brain. 

It also increases the levels of substances required to repair tissue. Non-essential functions are slowed down, and the immune system response is altered. In addition, your digestive system is suppressed as well as the reproductive system and growth processes.

Your mood will naturally be affected by a release of cortisol, and remaining in stressful circumstances will prolong the effects of cortisol which by natural standards should be short-lived.

African Mudcloth design throw and blanket with baby underneath

From the three hormones mentioned above, you will already be able to understand the benefit of using a weighted blanket. Here are some conditions that may be alleviated or brought under control through weighted blanket therapy:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Autism.
  • Stress and distress.
  • Depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • Sensory disorders.

As we all know, stress is a condition that affects most people in varying degrees. Our body’s natural response to stress is to produce cortisol as part of our fight or flight response. With continued stress comes the continued production of cortisol which can lead to the following:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia and sleep disruption.
  • Weight gain from eating/drinking as a first form of addressing the symptoms of stress.
  • Irrational decisions on how best to cope with stress-related issues like the harmful use of alcohol, drugs, and prescription medicine.

African Mudcloth in front of a fire on the beach in california

Is Medicine a Better Alternative to Weighted Blankets Therapy? 

Prescribed medication helps to bring anxiety-related symptoms under control. In most cases, medication for depression is a long process that may endure for years. Let’s not forget that the purpose of medication is to bring you to a state of normalcy while other therapies may be included for a more holistic treatment program.

Weighted blankets offer a natural therapy that can be used as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with medication. One is not better or worse than the other, as their use depends on the person receiving the treatment and their treatment preference. 

As mentioned, weighted blankets are designed to function as a deep pressure stimulation therapy, and research on the body’s reaction to touch therapy has proved beneficial in numerous trials. Weighted blanket therapy is able to contain and control anxiety symptoms without the use of medication.

Having said this, the cause of anxiety should be examined, and steps should be taken to neutralize the cause. This might mean having a lifestyle make-over which in itself can be a cause of anxiety. The best approach is to follow the advice and recommendations of the medical professionals you are seeing but do not be afraid to seek elsewhere for a second opinion.

Thula Tula Mali Mudcloth blanket on king size bed with family underneath in California decorated room

Why Are Weighted Blankets Not Recommended for Children Under Two?

Children under the age of two need skin-to-skin time with mom, and newborns need to be swaddled as it mimics the comfort and security of being in the womb. Being close to mom or other people is important for normal childhood development; however, the benefits of swaddling cannot be replicated with a weighted blanket for infants that have outgrown swaddling.

Swaddling is a phase that helps babies adapt to their new environment, whereas weighted blankets offer therapy for older children and adults as a coping and management tool to reduce the effects of stress-related symptoms or to better manage conditions like autism.

Infants have fragile respiratory systems, and the weight of a weighted blanket will apply continuous pressure that may result in breathing difficulties and possible suffocation. Because infants younger than two years old don’t have the mastered motor skills to control their immediate surroundings, especially while asleep, they will not kick the blanket off if it becomes unbearable.

Another factor is heat generation. Mothers need to control the amount of heat surrounding their baby, and in warm climates, a weighted blanket can trap heat, causing overheating, which can be fatal for infants if left unchecked. 

Pros of a Weighted Blanket.

  • Deep Pressure Stimulation induces a feeling of calmness.
  • Provides comfort and a sense of security, the same as swaddling does for infants.
  • Eases stress and anxiety while promoting better sleep.
  • Calms the nervous system.
  • Helps to break the cycle of sleep disorders related to stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety cause sleep interruptions which in turn exacerbate the condition into a never-ending loop. Quality sleep as a primary therapy can subdue and control stress and anxiety by using weighted blankets to restore normal sleep patterns. 

Cons of Weighted Blankets.

  • Can be life-threatening for children under two years old.
  • Will take about a month of use for benefits to become truly noticeable.
  • May trap heat depending on the fabric and fill used.
  • Are more expensive than normal blankets, but for a good reason.

Black and white Ndebele throw over a chair in a garden

Take Away.

While a Thula Tula blanket cannot be classed exclusively as weighted blankets, the Basotho blanket is a heavier style blanket with a very thick weave and is good option if you are looking for a an in-between weight for your weighted blanket. 

Weighted blankets are considered a medical device and can be freely used at all times of the day. Snuggling up on a couch under a weighted blanket for a few hours does wonder for your mood. 

To get the full benefits of a weighted blanket, it is best to follow the recommendations of your doctor or medical specialist so you can purchase the correct weight and fabric type for your condition. Your first use may feel uncomfortable until you get used to the weight, which might take a week or so.

Once you have experienced the benefits of a weighted blanket first-hand, you will understand why Deep Pressure Stimulation Therapy is the go-to therapy for stress and other conditions that rob so many of us of the quality sleep we need and rely on for good health.

Steve Watts
Steve Watts


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