You may have seen advertisements for products such as weighted blankets and sensory compression sheets which claim to improve quality of sleep and reduce anxiety. This article will look at the evidence behind these claims and discuss the potential benefits of these new items on the market.
Currently, there is limited research on the effects of weighted blankets and sensory compression sheets. Most research has focused upon how weighted items impact sleep experiences in young children with ADHD and autism, meaning the impacts the blankets and sheets can have on teenagers and adults is not fully understood (Andrews 2018).
The small amount of research which has focused upon the effects of weighted blankets on adults suggests they do have potential in producing positive outcomes. A study conducted in 2015 found that participants using a weighted blanket experienced increases in length of time sleeping, and decreases in movement during sleep, indicating better quality sleep. Beyond these findings, participants using a weighted blanket also found that the blanket made it easier to settle down to sleep, that the blanket improved quality of sleep, and that after sleeping under a weighted blanket they felt more refreshed in the morning (Ackerley, Badre & Olausson 2015).
Weighted blankets have the potential to produce positive outcomes by grounding the body and providing deep pressure stimulation.
Grounding the body during sleep, which is achieved by pushing the body downwards, can be calming (Whelan 2020). Research indicates that grounding during sleep can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the body. Excessively high levels of this hormone can lead to sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, and mood disturbances, amongst other health conditions (Ghaly & Teplitz 2004).
Deep pressure stimulation, or DPS, is a form of touch pressure on the body which simulates the feeling of being hugged firmly, held, swaddled, or massaged. This sensation, when provided by a weighted blanket, has been shown to be calming for some adults. Specifically, research focusing on the effects of DPS from weighted blankets found that 63% of participants reported lower levels of anxiety after use of a weighted blanket, and 78% of participants preferred a weighted blanket as a way to calm down (as opposed to not using the blanket) (Mullen et al. 2008). Although this study suggests that weighted blankets can contribute to positive outcomes for users, it is important to note that this study included only 32 adults. Such a small sample of participants makes the results less generalisable to the wider public.
An important finding of this study, however, is that weighted blankets are safe (Mullen et al. 2008). This means that in terms of safety, there is no risk in trying a weighted blanket. When considering purchasing an item such as a weighted blanket or sensory compression sheet it is important to consider whether they are a well-evidenced item or something which only seems like it could be effective. In terms of weighted blankets and sensory compression sheets, there is currently limited evidence supporting their efficacy for improving sleep and reducing anxiety in adults. This does not necessarily mean they will not be effective for you, as an individual, but rather that they cannot be considered a guaranteed means through which improved sleep or reduced anxiety can be achieved.