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How Do Weighted Blankets Work?

Weighted blankets have emerged as one of the hottest self-care products on the market in recent years, and promise to help reduce anxiety. But how do they actually work?

The Hug Machine

Weighted blankets are essentially the consumer product realization of a concept known as pressure therapy, which was introduced into human medicine by Dr. Temple Grandin. During her time as a cattle researcher, Grandin learned that applying pressure to the sides of agitated cows could calm them down, and she went on to invent a human version of the "squeeze chutes" that were being used on ranches.

Grandin used (and continues to use) her padded Hug Box to treat her own anxiety, and to this day, it remains a common therapy for children on the autism spectrum. And while weighted blankets don't apply as much direct pressure as an actual hug machine, they're far more affordable, take up a lot less space, and frankly, fit more neatly into most peoples' lives.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, the feeling of touch and pressure on one's skin can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help relax your muscles and lower your heart rate, easing the feeling of tension one gets from anxiety. To be clear, a weighted blanket is not a cure for anxiety, and is no substitute for professional mental health treatment if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, but it can still help relax your body, ease you to sleep, and provide a respite in times of stress.

So do weighted blankets actually work? As you might expect, many people swear by them, and many others don't feel any effects when using them, but separate studies have shown that they help many autistic children sleep, can keep patients calmer during oral surgery, and yes, can reduce anxiety symptoms in many adults. Personally and anecdotally, I don't generally like sleeping under them, but I use one on the couch almost every evening to wind down at the end of the day. Your own experiences may vary.

If you're on the fence about buying one, try thinking back to the last time you were at the dentist, and had the heavy lead apron laid across your chest for X-rays. If you find that to be a pleasant sensation, there's a pretty good chance that you'll like a weighted blanket.

The Blankets to Buy

Buzio Weighted Blanket
Buzio Weighted Blanket

If you're just trying to figure out if a weighted blanket is right for you, I highly recommend this affordable blanket from Buzio. It's not the prettiest blanket, but can easily be inserted into the duvet cover of your choice to match your decor. Its weighted glass beads are also surrounded by lots of cotton, which makes the blanket feel less "crunchy" than some others that I've tried.  Just be sure to pick the model that comes closest to 10% of your body weight.

Bearaby Tree Napper
Bearaby Tree Napper

If you want a blanket that'll stand out as the focal point of a room, Bearaby's Tree Napper blankets get their weight simply by layering plant-based yarn into a chunky, breathable knit. It'll likely be the best looking blanket you own, weighted or otherwise.

Big Blanket XL Weighted Blanket
Big Blanket XL Weighted Blanket

And if you want to share the weighted blanket experience with the whole family, the Big Blanket XL Weighted Blanket distributes either 30 or 40 pounds across a 100" x 120" blanket. That's larger than a king sized comforter, and is big enough for an entire family to get cozy on the couch.

There are, of course, no guarantees that weighted blankets will calm you down in times of stress, but there's plenty of evidence that they help a lot of people, and if you buy one, the worst case scenario is that you end up with a blanket that keeps you warm, just like any other.

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