Anxiety can arise in our everyday lives for a number of reasons: too much pressure at work, not getting enough sleep or even stressful life situations such as a death in the family or financial worries.
Personally, having gone through a collective lockdown experience over the last year and a half, I too, found myself dealing with everyday bursts of anxiety more than I ever had in the past.
I found myself researching what could help in these moments of restlessness and noticed time and time again I kept coming across weighted blankets online. However, they had many mixed reviews around the size and weight of the blanket, the best type of blanket and if they were really worth their weight when it came to the price tags.
And apparently, I am not alone.
Recently Myvitamins, did a survey which found that the term ‘weighted blanket’ had a total of 343,920 annual searches over the past year, and despite not being a new invention, has seen a huge increase in popularity. Sales of weighted blankets have also increased by 250%.
Additional studies found a staggering 50% of the UK population report that their sleep has been disturbed due to Covid and the number of people experiencing insomnia has risen to one in four.
I decided to work with Simba, a British sleep technology brand and one of the leading weighted blanket brands. Testing their Orbit Weighted blanket, I have decided to share my first-hand experience on trying weighted blankets for the first time, advice on choosing the perfect blanket and if, in actuality, these blankets can help with alleviating anxiety.
How do weighted blankets work?
Weighted Blankets help to tackle anxiety symptoms such as racing mind and sleeplessness caused by stress, by harnessing a science called ‘deep pressure therapy.’ This therapy is activated by applying relaxing pressure to the body – which feels very similar to a calming, full-body hug.
From a scientific perspective, Deep Pressure Therapy triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) in the body, which is meant to help soothe, ease away stress and reduce restlessness. The pressure from the blanket also helps the body produce serotonin, which helps us feel more relaxed.
Medical scientist and founder of The Womb Effect, HRH Dr Nauf AlBendar, explains that adults that are diagnosed with conditions such as insomnia, depression, chronic pain or anxiety are rediscovering feelings of security through their weighted blankets. She also explained that these blankets are actually one of the sensory tools commonly used professionally in psychiatric units and occupational therapy to help comfort restless individuals.
How do you choose the right weighted blanket?
There were many elements to keep in mind when choosing a weighted blanket, which in all honesty for someone like myself, seemed overwhelming. Having now tried and tested one personally, here are my thoughts:
It is recommended to choose a blanket that’s around 10 per cent or less of your body weight. This was the one element that initially stopped me so many times from purchasing a weighted blanket, as I was unsure how heavy would be TOO heavy.
While working with Simba, I received their lighter blanket option at 6.8kg. Unless you are the type of person who really enjoys the feeling of heaviness on your body, I highly recommend going towards the lighter weight if you are unsure which way to go. While at first, I was concerned it wouldn’t be heavy enough, I was pleasantly surprised at how effective the lighter blanket was.
Now having used a weighted blanket, this is a feature I would not budge on when purchasing. Weighted blankets are undoubtedly heavy compared to their everyday blanket counterparts, and therefore require slight finessing when putting them onto a bed, folding or getting under them for sleep.
Had the beads not been quilted for even distribution, I personally believe the experience would have been slightly frustrating, as the pockets kept the entire blanket perfectly distributed. While some blankets allow their beads to free flow, I think it’s worth spending a little more on a quality blanket that has these quilted pockets.
Machine Washable Cover
This is a completely personal preference and for many, I would say, not a deal-breaker in making a purchasing decision. However, as the owner of a wonderful Great Dane (and I’m sure many other pet owners will agree), the removable, machine washable cover is also another feature that would be non-negotiable for me in my weighed blanket search. I found pleasure in having a clean cover every week and washed it regularly alongside my bedsheets.
So, if you prefer to have consistently fresh sheets or have pets in your home, my recommendation is to find a blanket that is machine washable.
So, are weighted blankets worth it?
I have found the perfect relationship with my weighted blanket. As I experience less anxiety-induced insomnia and more from day-to-day effects, I found myself reaching for my blanket in the moments I needed to be more grounded or when I felt I was heading towards an emotional spiral. In those moments, I was able to utilise the weight of the blanket to balance myself and feel a sense of calm.
At night, I preferred to sleep with my blanket rolled up next to me, as the weight of it against my back felt like an added layer of security. My friends, however, loved sleeping with the blanket when they stayed over at my house and perfectly compared it to the feeling of a friendly, soothing hug.
If you are someone who deals with anxiety, I would highly recommend utilising my tips above to purchase and experience the benefits of a weighted blanket yourself.
The Simba Orbit, which is the blanket I have been using, has all of the recommended features above, including two choices of weight, uniquely designed nano-beads packed in quilted pockets and a 100% super-soft cotton cover that is removable and machine-washable.
It is available on simbasleep.com in 6.8kg or 9kg for £169.
What else can I do to sleep better?
It’s important to note weighted blankets, while an amazing tool, are not the only way to address issues with sleep or anxiety. Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing from Nuffield Health, also recommends utilising CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) techniques to improve sleep.
One example of this you can try is the ‘SOUND ASLEEP’ technique:
S – Sleep – The bed should be reserved for sleep and sex only. To strengthen the connection with the bed and sleeping you need to associate it with sleeping. The more additional things that you do in bed, the weaker, more diluted, the connection between sleep. If you’re working from home and need to work in your bedroom, section off an area that is designated for work.
O – Observe – Whilst in bed observe the feel of the mattress beneath you, the comfort of the pillows, the sense of being absorbed into the mattress. Try to make all the sensations associated with the bed and sleep as vivid as possible.
U – Unable to get to sleep – If you can’t sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, apply the quarter of an hour rule. Get up, get out of bed and go to a different room and do something not stimulating for 20 to 30 minutes, then return to bed. Repeat until you sleep. This is hard but necessary. If you lie in bed unable to sleep for long periods you start to associate your bed with wakefulness and maybe agitation.
N – No napping – To strengthen the connection between night-time sleep behaviour and the bed, you need to ban any daytime napping. It’s essential to associate both the night (and the bed) with sleep and the day with wakefulness.
D – Decide your routine and stick to it – If you go to bed at 11:00 pm – always have a fixed rising time no matter how well you sleep. The amount of sleep we need differs from person to person but if you don’t have a fixed bedtime and rising time the risk is that sleep starts to ‘seep’ into the day and you lose that valuable association between sleep behaviour and night-time/the bed.
A – Alcohol and nicotine – Both will interfere with sleep so limit these before bed.
S – Sleep environment – Make sure the bedroom is dark enough, comfy enough (pillows, mattress), quiet enough with good air quality and appropriate temperature for sleep.
L – Leave it out – Leave laptops, smartphones, TV’s, paperwork out of the bedroom. Our body clock is extremely sensitive, and even small amounts of lights from appliances can disrupt the production of helpful sleep hormones.
E – Exercise regularly – Around one hour of exercise a day will help but leave a ‘buffer’ period of at least 2 hours before bed.
E – Eat a balanced diet – Make sure you consume a balanced diet throughout the day and aim to have a ‘buffer’ period of at least 2 hours before going to bed after eating a large meal.
P – Plan for sleep – Try to develop a ‘wind-down’ routine at least 60 minutes before you go to bed. This period should involve ceasing doing stimulating activities and instead, engaging in more relaxing activities like having a bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea or listening to relaxing music.
Want to track your sleep? Check out our review of the Withings Sleep Analzyser here.