Can Weighted Blankets Really Reduce Stress and Anxiety, or Are Those Claims a Bunch of Fluff?

GeorgeRudy/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgeRudy/iStock via Getty Images

When Atlanta-based editor Lauren Finney got her weighted blanket, it was initially on the recommendation of a physical therapist to help with her joint compression. Now, she tells Mental Floss, she can’t sleep without it. Chicago-based software developer Brandon Behr echoes that sentiment, telling Mental Floss that his weighted blanket “helps tremendously when the anxiety brain won't shut down long enough to fall asleep.”

Weighted blankets (also called gravity blankets), filled with pellets or another material to make them weigh about 10 pounds or more, are all over social media and ads, drawing buyers in with promises of complete comfort and a better night’s sleep. Most brands recommend getting one that’s 10 percent of your body weight for optimal relaxation and comfort.

“The concept is that the sensation may send messages to the brain that increases a sense of well-being,” Dr. Susan Lipkins, CEO of Real Psychology, tells Mental Floss. “Some research suggests that it is similar to pressure massages, which have been shown to help the brain calm down.”

Alternately, says Dr. Kristin Addison-Brown, owner of NEA Neuropsychology, it could have to do with a feeling of being swaddled—an evolutionary throwback to childhood when we felt more safe and secure from the feeling of being tightly wrapped. Ultimately, the purpose of weighted blankets is to bring down a person’s base-level anxiety so they can get some rest, Addison-Brown tells Mental Floss.

Light Evidence on Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets have been touted by their manufacturers as a calming agent for people with anxiety and autism—but Lipkins and Addison-Brown both point out that no substantive peer-reviewed research has been done on them.

“Right now, the empirical evidence is pretty weak,” Addison-Brown says. “I did see one randomized controlled trial where [children with autism] used a weighted blanket versus a regular blanket, but that trial didn’t [show] any objective differences” [PDF].

Interestingly enough, Addison-Brown points out, even though the two groups saw the same results scientifically, the parents and children involved in the study all preferred to use the weighted blanket over a regular blanket. The findings appeared in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2013.

“There’s something inherently pleasing to us about [gravity blankets], but we don’t exactly know why and any real objective measures are not reflecting back,” she says.

Are weighted blankets worth it?

It’s not a one-blanket-fits-all solution. Some people may actively dislike them, and the blankets can cause problems for others. It takes some trial and error to see if they’re the right option.

“Gravity blankets seem to help some people some of the time,” Lipkins says. “The weight, for some, creates a secure and safe environment, allowing the person to relax and fall asleep more easily. Others may feel suffocated and like they can’t move.”

The most common complaints that weighted blanket users told Mental Floss match that idea. Canadian journalist Johanna Read didn’t like the way her blanket pushed her feet into a point. Illinois-based former car technician Noah Dionesotes says he couldn’t get comfortable because he likes to sleep with one leg out of the blanket. Wichita, Kansas, resident Jocelyn Russell says the blanket she bought is too heavy and, ironically, it gives her panic attacks.

In fact, weighted blankets have the potential to be dangerous: The deaths of two children, a 7-month-old and a 9-year-old, have been linked to them.

Neither Lipkins nor Addison-Brown are anxious to prescribe the blankets as a solution, especially since their safety hasn’t been fully established. Instead, they suggest first trying other, more natural ways to fall asleep: don’t watch television late at night, turn off your screens, set a regular bedtime and waking time, and avoid caffeine.

“[You could] also consult a psychologist to help find out what is keeping you awake and how to reduce stress and anxiety in healthful ways,” Lipkins adds.

All that being said, go ahead and try gravity blankets—as long as you do so safely.

“If you can afford it, I don’t see any real harm in it,” Addison-Brown says. “Though I would be very careful using it with people who may have any kind of muscle weakness. You also wouldn’t want to have a child or baby in the bed with you. Just use caution and common sense.”

New Cross-Bred Cosmic Crisp Apples Can Stay Fresh for Up to a Year

Cosmic Crisp
Cosmic Crisp

Healthy snackers know only too well the disappointment that comes with biting into what looks like a deliciously crisp apple and getting a mouthful of mealy mush instead. It’s just one of the pome fruit’s many potential issues—they also brown quickly, bruise easily, and don’t last as long as whatever bag of chips you might be tempted to reach for instead.

Enter the Cosmic Crisp, a Washington-grown patented hybrid apple that could be the answer to all your apple-related complaints. According to New Atlas, researchers at Washington State University began breeding the new variety as a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples in 1997, and it’s officially hitting stores now.

cosmic crisp apple on tree
Cosmic Crisp

Not only does a Cosmic Crisp apple resist bruising and browning better than other kinds of apples, it also boasts an exceptionally long storage life. In a controlled atmosphere, it should stay fresh for a full year—meaning you’ll soon be able to enjoy a crisp, satisfying snack in the middle of March, when out-of-season apples usually leave much to be desired. In your own refrigerator, Cosmic Crisp apples are good for about six months, and they’ll even last for several weeks if you leave them out at room temperature. The long shelf life might cut down on the number of apples that you end up tossing in the trash because they went bad before you got around to eating them.

In a 2012 report published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortScience, the Washington State University researchers found that a group of 114 consumers rated the Cosmic Crisp apple, or WA 38, higher than Fuji apples in sweetness, sourness, flavor intensity, crispness, firmness, juiciness, and overall acceptance. The apple's website even suggests that bakers can reduce the amount of added sugar in recipes that contain Cosmic Crisps.

The Cosmic part of its name comes from the whitish specks on the apple’s skin, which reminded taste testers of a starry sky. In reality, those specks are lenticels—porous openings that allow the apple to exchange gases with its environment.

If you don’t see Cosmic Crisp apples in your grocery store yet, here’s a simple trick for keeping any apples fresh for longer.

[h/t New Atlas]

The Reason So Many Babies Are Conceived in Winter

yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images
yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images

Does it feel like many friends and family members announce the pending arrival of a baby during the fall and winter months? That’s not exactly a coincidence. It turns out the cold season is associated with more reproductive activity than any other time of the year. The month of December alone accounts for 9 percent of conceptions in the United States. Science is gaining a better understanding of why.

All living creatures heed an evolutionary instinct to target seasonal births. If conception happens during colder months, babies will be born during warmer months, when resources will be bountiful. Northern states have births peaking in June and July, while southern states come a bit later in October and November. The farther south, the later the birth peak, since people in these warm climates are less influenced by frigid temperatures.

What are frisky humans responding to in colder months? Research suggests that the cooler temperatures and shortened days signal that it's time to get busy. Other theories suggest that men may be more fertile in colder months, or that a woman’s ovum receptivity might change with decreased daylight. Not only are couples potentially more sexually active, but that activity might wind up being more (re)productive.

Are there benefits to conceiving at other times? Possibly. One 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gathered data from nearly 1.5 million births and found that average birth weight in the first five months of the year decreased by 10 grams. Babies born during the summer months were 20 grams heavier. Mothers who conceived in summer tended to gain more weight than those who conceived at other times.

If you have a disproportionate amount of friends with a September birthday, it’s likely that their parents consciously or unconsciously followed their evolutionary instinct nine months earlier.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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