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Do weighted blankets really help with sleep and anxiety?

By Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager Gina Brady and Pam Dewey • weighted blanket, weighted blanket for anxiety, weighted blanket for insomnia, do weighted blankets work, sensory tools, sensory friendly, sensory accommodations, inclusivity, sensory friendly environment, inclusion, sensory tools for autism, sensory tools for kids with autism, sensory sensitivity, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • November 03, 2022

Weighted blankets have increased in popularity over the last few years. You’ve probably seen them at Target and your favorite online retailers. Maybe you have a friend who swears by their weighted blanket.

It can be hard to know what’s hyperbole and what’s based on science and research. In this blog, we’ll share some history of weighted blankets and knowledge from experts like Fraser Sensory CertifiedTM Supports and Program Training Manager Gina Brady. 

Who created the weighted blanket?

According to, “The inventor of the weighted blanket, Keith Zivalich, was inspired to create his product when he noticed that he felt a relaxing hugging sensation after his daughter placed a beanie baby (a 90's cult toy filled with beans) on his shoulder. He realized that the sensation was calming, and wondered how it would feel to lay under a blanket made of beanie babies.” With the help of his wife, they created a prototype.

Zivalich imagined weighted blankets as a product for kids, but parents weren’t sure what to make of the items. However, Zivalich decided to reach out to a teacher friend. On, Zivalich states, “But when I gave a weighted blanket to a teacher who taught disabled children and asked her to try it with her students, many of whom were on the autism spectrum and/or suffered from sensory processing disorder, everything changed. She told me that night that she needed more of those blankets, many more.” The children’s reaction was more than enough for Zivalich to move forward.

Zivalich’s business was originally named Beanie Blankets, and it grew in popularity with many families within the autism community. More people began selling the blankets, and eventually weighted blankets became a common item sold to help people with anxiety, depression, insomnia and other mental health issues.

But do weighted blankets really help with these things? And is there science supporting the use of weighted blankets?

The answer is complicated. states, “One of the most well-known autistic adults, Temple Gradin, wrote about her life with an autistic brain [in ‘Thinking in Pictures’]…Gradin discovered how much a deep pressure sensation could help calm her down when she was experiencing difficulty grounding herself.”

Proprioception is your sense of body awareness, which helps you realize where you are in relation to the things around you. Grandin, who is also an American scientist, academic and animal behaviorist, studied the benefits of deep pressure for people on the spectrum. states, “Deep touch pressure works on the principle of applying weight or pressure to provide proprioceptive input. This input calms and modulates the central nervous system which, in turn, aids the processing of sensory information.” People with a poor sense of proprioception may seek deep pressure to better process sensory information. 

Fraser Sensory CertifiedTM Supports and Program Training Manager Gina Brady also points out that deep pressure input activates the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for your rest and digestion functions. Brady say it also inhibits the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight or flight reactions.

So it makes sense that many people have turned to weighted blankets for deep pressure input, since it can stimulate your body to want to rest.

But what about people with anxiety or insomnia?

There has been some research on using weighted blankets to help people with anxiety and insomnia. Harvard Health states, “A team of researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden conducted a study to determine whether a weighted metal chain blanket could improve insomnia symptoms compared to a light plastic chain blanket. They recruited outpatients with elevated insomnia symptoms who were being treated for one of several mood disorders: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)… Participants who used the weighted metal chain blanket reported that their insomnia symptom severity declined significantly, while those who had used the light blanket did not experience such notable improvements. Furthermore, depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms decreased much more for those who used the weighted blanket than those who used the light blanket.” These findings would certainly suggest that using a weighted blanket can help with some mental health conditions, as well as insomnia. However, their research also showed “there were no significant improvements to key insomnia metrics, such as the amount of time spent awake after falling asleep, when sleep was tracked objectively using the actigraph.” Actigraphs were devices worn on the wrist to track the sleep metrics of participants.

In other words, it’s possible the benefits of a weighted blanket were more psychological than physical. Harvard Health also states, “there is a very real placebo effect for insomnia symptoms.” That means people believe they’re cured because a method or item is supposed to help them, whether or not it actually does.

So should I buy one?

Brady often tells people that weighted blankets aren’t considered evidence-based yet. Experts believe continued research is needed on weighted blankets, before we truly understand the benefits to people with autism, anxiety, insomnia and other mental health conditions. However, research requires the people in your experiment use the same protocol, says Brady, which is hard because everyone’s sensory systems are so unique. So, using a weighted blanket could still be beneficial to many individuals, even if the research isn’t statistically significant yet. Just remember that for weighted blankets, 10% of your body weight is recommended for the weight of your blanket.

Brady also cautions if you use a weighted blanket for sleep, keep in mind your sensory system will grow used to it. That means it will start to feel like part of your body. You may find that the 10 or 15-pound weighted blanket that helped you fall right asleep one month ago, now feels too light because your system is accustomed to it. That doesn’t mean you should move up to a 20 or 25-pound blanket (if that exceeds 10% of your body weight); it could be dangerous to do so! You must be able to move freely beneath the blanket and remove it in your sleep. Instead, try taking a break from the blanket for a week or two. Or use the blanket to help your child fall asleep, then swap it for a standard blanket, once they are sleeping, to keep the weighted blanket novelty sensations for longer. You could also only use the weighted blanket on nights when you feel most anxious.