The latest and greatest wellness practice: sleeping with a weighted blanket. Like other soothing rituals in the same league—think: ASMR and app-based mediation—these heavy blankets promise a sense of security capable of relieving stress and anxiety to help you sleep better. But do they really work?
Unlike your average duvet cover, weighted blankets are filled with tiny plastic pellets to make them super-heavy—I’m talking up to 25 pounds. And thanks to the extra heft, they’re credited with bringing calm to the person under them.
Apparently, the confined sensation mimics the comfort of a gentle hug which promotes the release of feel-good chemicals that some say even relaxes them enough to sleep more deeply. “What they provide is a sense of tactile grounding in the body,” says Lara Fielding, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up. These blankets have the symbolic ability to make people feel anchored enough to focus on the present and feel more relaxed, says Fielding.
Well…if you want them to, they might, says Martin Antony, PhD, professor of psychology at Ryerson University and co-author of the Anti-Anxiety Workbook. “Anxiety has a very strong placebo response,” so if people are told weighted blankets work soothing miracles, there’s a good chance they’ll believe that they do.
Weighted blankets are great “in-the-moment comforts,” he says, but no evidence or studies suggest they work better than having a cup of tea, or reading your favorite book before bed. None of these soothing behaviors are proven long-term anxiety-relief treatments, but if they make you feel good, Antony says to go for it.
Chances are, though, that the real benefit behind that weighted blanket is the relaxation that comes from time spent feeling cozy and chill. Regardless of whether you had a weighted blanket slung over your shoulders, 30 minutes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone would have most likely made you feel better about your work or relationship stresses anyway. Just by waiting it out, your breathing evens out and your mind relaxes because you took time for yourself.
And while weighted blankets may feel calming, they’re not solutions for steady anxiety disorders (phobias, a panic disorder, selective mutism). “In fact, some of these soothing behaviors may actually undermine people’s ability to get over anxiety over the long-term,” Antony says.
That’s because repeatedly turning to short-term coping mechanisms will prevent a person from learning how to identify and respond to their fears. Yes, feeling anxious is uncomfortable, but it’s necessary, according to Fielding, because “the more avoidant we are of our emotions, the more they will actually hijack us,” he says. The less accustomed you are to feeling anxiety, the worse you might feel when it does hit.
“We’re just collecting more and more ways to feel better, but we’re not getting any better at feeling,” says Fielding, making weighted blankets kind of a crutch.
Learning how to cope with anxiety is an essential life skill, Fielding says. When you feel like your stresses, worries, and anxieties are getting the best of you, try (proven) long-term anxiety-relief strategies, like talking to a therapist, creating a nighttime routine, or trying meditation—all of which you can do whenever and as often as you want.
The bottom line: You can use a weighted blanket to feel more secure, but they’re not meant to treat long-term anxiety disorders.
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