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Weighted Blanket for Insomnia Makes Sleeping Easier

Research has determined that weighted blankets for insomnia benefit those who can't seem to get enough sleep. This article explores how weighted blankets...

A weighted blanket for insomnia that works would be a lifesaver for many who struggle with sleep issues. Sleep is important, and getting enough sleep can be challenging in the face of daunting and never-ending to-do lists, societal pressure to fill every second of every day with a productive task, and entertainment innovations such as Netflix, which suck us into binge-watching for hours on end. It’s no wonder, then, that almost ⅓ of the world population has sleep issues.

Everyone knows that getting enough sleep is important, but not everyone knows just how important. It can, without much exaggeration, be a matter of life and death. Would you drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.05? No? Well, research has shown that going without sleep for 17 to 19 hours – think about getting 5 to 7 hours sleep in a night – produces psychological effects equivalent to that level (Williamson, & Feyer, 2000). Even holding aside the more dire possibilities, a lack of sleep doesn’t only lead to grouchiness, but it can also cause impairments in mental health, concentration, and job performance.

And what about insomniacs? How about people who don’t even get five hours of sleep a night? All of that tossing and turning coupled with waking up in the middle of the night make the potential effects of sleeplessness even worse (Hack et al., 2001).

If you suffer from insomnia, or simply aren’t getting sufficient sleep at night, it’s important to do something about it.

average sleep times for adults

Do Weighted Blankets Help you Sleep?

Before we dive into the study, what is a weighted blanket for insomnia? What is a working weighted blanket definition? A weighted blanket can simply be defined as a heavy blanket for sleeping, and the benefits of sleeping with a weighted blanket are highlighted before in this weighted blanket sleep study. The theory is that with weighted blankets, sleep quality improves. Of course, high quality weighted blankets ensure that the weight distribution is even and thus would provide more therapeutic benefits. 

Three Swedish scholars recently recruited a sample of insomniacs in order to investigate a weighted blanket for insomnia. Specifically, Ackerley, Badre, and Olausson (2015) recruited 31 participants, all of whom reported symptoms of insomnia. Participants needed to be healthy in order to participate.  This meant being free of illness and disease, problems with blood pressure, and sleep disorders beyond the symptoms of insomnia themselves. 

This study did not include data on underlying mental health conditions, so we are unsure if these adults were suffering from insomnia due to an underlying condition, or insomnia as a stand-alone condition. This information is important because some conditions such as ADHD have insomnia as a symptom, and thus the ADHD itself would need to manage for overall insomnia relief. 

                          Participant Insomnia Symptom Breakdown

insomnia participants break down

what is insomnia

The researcher’s definition of insomnia

For one week, all the participants slept in their own homes and their own beds, as they normally would. Then participants spent two weeks sleeping with a weighted blanket for insomnia, and another week after that without it.

During this time, a number of physiological measurements were taken. For example, some nights, participants were hooked up to one of those machines that you see in movies when someone is taking a lie detector test. This allowed the researchers to gather information about things like brain activity and heart rate to see if the weighted blanket for insomnia. In addition, participants wore Actigraphy watches – you know, a FitBit! This technology allowed the researchers to measure how restless participants were at night. Lastly, participants filled out surveys, asking them how they felt about the quality of their sleep as well as a number of other important questions.

This method allowed the scientists to look at both physiological measures – heartbeat and so forth – and self-reported measures before, during, and after sleeping with a weighted blanket for insomnia.

sleep study

So, DOES a Weighted Blanket for Insomnia work?

Results from Physiological Data

Physiological measurement tools data Week Before
Weighted Blanket
Week with
Weighted Blanket
Week After Weighted Blanket
Sleep Bout 26 minutes 29 minutes 25 minutes
Total Activity
(tool activity score)
19000 16000 20000
Dark Activity 175 minutes 160 minutes 185 minutes

 Results From Self-Report Data

Subjective data Before Weighted Blanket With Weighted Blanket
Sleep Quality Score 5.9 5.5
KSS 5.8 5.5

weighted blanket for insomnia data shows they help reduce insomnia symptoms

Some of the most important results are indicated in the accompanying tables. The measurement “mean sleep bout” essentially asks, if the participant was asleep, how long did they manage to stay asleep? For an insomniac, obviously, larger numbers are better. As you can see, sleep bouts while using the blanket were longer both before using the blanket and after using it. In other words, using the weighted blanket for insomnia kept people asleep longer.

These encouraging results from the physiological data were echoed from the results of the questionnaires administered to participants. (On these scales, lower numbers are better, so that in terms of sleep quality, for instance, 1 is “better” and 10 is “worse.”) When  comparing the participants’ reports before using the blanket and after using the weighted blanket for insomnia the authors of the study stated:

There were decreases in both of these measures, meaning a better subjective sleep quality (sleep quality: decreased from 5.9 (pre-test) to 5.5 (during blanket use), p = 0.005; KSS decreased from 5.8 (pre-test) to 5.5 (during blanket use), p = 0.068).

In addition, the researchers found that:

sleeping with a weighted blanket

In short, people’s self-report matched physiological data. The weighted blanket for insomnia help.

Other interesting results to consider

(1) They also found that with participants who took medication to help them sleep, using the weighted blanket in addition to medication helped them fall asleep faster!

(2) Only the participants who reported they liked the weighted blanket for insomnia had significantly less movement two hours before waking up. What does this mean? Believing in the weighted blanket for insomnia and liking it may give you better benefits as opposed to a skeptic.

What Is Significance?

Before concluding, it’s worth taking a moment to clarify those probabilities in the quotations, and what scientists mean by “significant” differences.

The word “significant” in scientific articles such as this one doesn’t mean what most people mean by that word. Usually “significant” means something like “large” or “important.” One’s “significant other” is an important part of one’s life, for instance.

Scientists use the term in a narrow, particular way. Here’s the way this works. Suppose a critic came along and said, hey, wait a minute, maybe the reason that people sleeping with the blanket reported better sleep quality with the blanket as opposed to without it is that-

(1) It’s just by chance,

(2) Or those particular participants happened to be sleeping with the blanket,

(3) They just happened to get better sleep, perhaps because of what happened during those days compared to other days.

That’s certainly possible. It could be that by chance sleep quality was better on blanket days than non-blanket days.

What that “p” number is telling you – p = .005, in this case – is just how unlikely it is in this case that the difference we see is due to chance as opposed to being due to the effect of the blanket. In this case, the odds are five in a thousand that this result is due to chance. When the researcher can say with reasonable confidence – less then 1 in 20 is the usual convention – that a difference is not due to chance, they refer to that difference as “statistically significant.” If a researcher says that a difference is significant, they are saying that the result they’re reporting is probably not due to random chance. Peer-reviewed professional opinions on whether weighted blankets really help with insomnia

Peer-reviewed professional opinions on whether a weighted blanket for insomnia really helps with sleep issues

Robert’s Notes:

Sounds too good to be true right? As with any study, some limitations should be addressed to get a full and clear picture.

It’s possible that participants had nice things to say about the weighted blanket for insomnia because they wanted to be “the ideal participant,” or maybe they really did benefit from the weighted blanket for insomnia. This is a common issue with experiments; If participants find out what the researchers are trying to discover, they may bias their responses to give the researcher the results they are hoping for. For this experiment, they used physiological measures as well as self-reported measures, which aids in the truthfulness of the results and reduces participant bias.

Also, they only looked at a couple of nights, there’s not any long-term proof to back up future claims. And, different weighted blankets (with different textures/ weights/ sizes) could elicit different results.

The study appears credible as it uses reliable measurements and appears valid and comes from a University rather than a paid sponsorship, so it can be trusted, but more information is needed to prove that weighted blankets are effective in the long run.

Ryan’s Notes:

This is an interesting article that provides some data to suggest weighted blankets may improve the quality of sleep in people with insomnia.  However, one of my biggest concerns with studies of a weighted blanket for insomnia is potential confounding effects that simply “liking” the blanket can have on both objective and subjective measurements.  As noted above, the authors reported that “only the participants who “liked” the weighted blanket had significantly less movement two hours before waking up”. So perhaps it is the participant’s level of happiness, and not the actual weight of the blanket, that allows them to sleep better.  I would find the results more compelling if those who disliked the blanket, also had improved sleep.

Another point of criticism concerns the effect the blanket may have on temperature.  While the participants subjectively reported no change in body temperature, this information could have easily been gathered objectively by the authors.  The authors claimed that the fabric of the weighted blanket “does not provide any additional warmth”, but they did not provide any evidence of this or documentation.  Slight changes in temperature surely have an effect on sleep. In fact, our core body temperature fluctuates with our sleep-wake cycles as part of our circadian (daily) rhythms.      

Lastly, it would be interesting to see the data stratified by levels of insomnia.  Perhaps the weighted blankets only help those with mild to moderate insomnia but do not help those with severe insomnia.

Overall, this article provides some preliminary data that warrants further research.

Veronica’s Notes:

I find these results interesting because in another study examining children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis and therefore symptoms of insomnia, there was no significant shift when the weighted blanket was used. Of course, the variables for the two studies are different where this study included average healthy adults, and the other included children with an ASD diagnosis, but what other variables could account for such a difference in results?

Many weighted blanket companies make claims that their products most certainly alleviate ASD symptoms, but that’s not always the case. Further, even though this study did present promising evidence that weighted blankets can help alleviate some symptoms of insomnia, this does not mean the results will apply to everyone.

For example, previous studies we have dissected discuss how weighted blankets can manipulate the autonomic nervous system, thus alleviating symptoms of anxiety, so we could go on a limb and say that if a person’s insomnia is caused by chronic anxiety, then the weighted blanket may be effective. However, if there are other underlying components of insomnia, how will the weighted blanket hold up? Humans are complex, and conditions are arguably even more complex with many variables that can account for underlying factors. This is important to keep in mind when reading through the results of a study, and why it is essential for research to move forward and progress on previous work.

If I were to take this study a step further, I would dissect the diagnosis of insomnia further by including an anxiety screener and conduct history of insomnia interviews to gather more information and insight on the underlying causes and thus providing a better look at how weighted blankets can impact symptoms of insomnia; I would also ensure that the weighted blanket weight was not simply chosen based on body weight, but through other factors to ensure that each participant has a customized weighted blanket to suit their therapeutic needs.

References

Ackerly, R., Badre, G., & Olausson, H. (2015). Positive effects of a weighted blanket on insomnia. Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders, 2(3).

Bjarki. (2013). 7 time consuming things an average Joe spends on in a lifetime. Retrieved from https://blog.tempo.io/2013/7-time-consuming-things-an-average-joe-spends-in-a-lifetime

Hack, M. A., Choi, S. J., Vijayapalan, P., Davies, R. J. O., & Stradling, J. R. (2001). Comparison of the effects of sleep deprivation, alcohol and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) on simulated steering performance. Respiratory medicine95(7), 594-601.

Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and environmental medicine57(10), 649-655.

About Our Guest Peer Reviewer

Robert holds a Ph.D. in psychology as well as a Masters of Public Administration. His research focuses on human social behavior, especially cooperation, moral judgment, and political attitudes. During his career as a social scientist, he obtained the rank of full professor, writing over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Google scholar shows that his work has been cited more than 10,000. He currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

Veronica THWB
Veronica

Veronica is a mental health professional who is pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has earned her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and now provides therapy to children and youth in the community agency setting. She has been a part of several studies withiфn the field of psychology, including cognitive psychology, sports psychology, and health psychology. Her current research interests revolve around utilizing mindfulness meditation techniques and how they can impact the health of individuals in various socio-economic settings. She also has research interests revolving around developing and implementing interventions to aid in recovery from substance abuse within the primary care setting.

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