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.”

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.