Why should my dog get all the fun of an eternal impersonal hug?
No matter how I try,* I just can’t make pictures of me sleeping under a gray blanket very blog-worthy, so this is going to be short on images. Just imagine this lovely picture is of me; as I, too, sleep with full makeup and perfect winged eyeliner.
Weighted blankets are a relatively new sleep health fad. Touted as treatments for anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and even as replacements for medication, these blankets and similar “deep touch” items have long been used in occupational therapy. Studies of weighted blankets and vests are often targeted towards neurodiverse individuals including Autistic folks and people with ADHD. There aren’t very many studies (yet) on neurotypical people, particularly adults. Existing studies on all populations have been small, and preliminary results do not appear to be earth-shattering in terms of the efficacy of deep touch on reducing stress or increasing concentration. (This article has some science-y breakdown for anyone who is interested in details.)
In short: weighted blankets aren’t a miracle cure and won’t help everyone. But many people, particular among the neurodiversity community, report positive results from deep touch therapy, and there is a reason why it is a staple among occupational therapy tools. Temple Grandin’s experience and research into this subject was published in this 1992 article, where she concludes:
At present, the squeeze machine [a deep touch apparatus] should be considered a novel treatment that has not been subjected to careful evaluation of clinical efficacy or safety. Preliminary observations in humans are encouraging, but the data are inadequate to recommend routine use in clinical care. However, a calming response to deep touch stimulation appears to be characteristic of a diversity of animals, and may represent a relatively “physiological” approach to sedation that has been overlooked by psychiatry researchers.
(See how you can tell when actual scientists are reporting results, because they’re honest in a gray-area kind of way where they admit limitations??? Refreshing.)
I’m a pretty good sleeper, but the recent cavalcade of cartoonishly horrifying current events has led to something I call the 4am Freakout. That’s when I wake up at 4am and then my anxiety brain decides to spin out all of the worst scenarios it can conjure until I manage to finally fall back to sleep, usually about twenty minutes before my alarm goes off. The prospect of my country veering off an authoritarian cliff isn’t the first time I’ve experienced the Freakout – previous incarnations occurred in the depths of postpartum anxiety and OCD, and during the soul-crushing rounds of job applications after graduating from college.
Jia Tolentino, former Jezebel editor, writer for the New York Times, and someone I’m pretty sure I could be best friends with, describes her own descent into politically induced “anti-self care” and her positive experience with the weighted blanket here, which I would tell you that I read months ago, but that would be a lie, because I just found it after googling “weighted blankets science”. I am so good at research you guys.
Not only do I have the anxiety (√) and insomnia (√) going for me, I’m also always cold and love nothing better than to sleep under what others might consider to be an unreasonable number of blankets. I will actually get up to get another blanket even if I am warm enough because there isn’t enough weight on my body. I am basically the target market for this product, is what I’m saying to you.
Now, weighted blankets can be homemade, but the project looked boring and expensive, even more expensive than the already expensive mass-produced blankets. So, with a birthday coming up, I prevailed upon my in-laws and husband to pool their funds and gift me a small grey blanket filled with plastic pellets. Wheee, adulthood. If anyone’s curious, I got this blanket and this cover – a cover is technically unnecessary, but it’s hard to wash the blanket. I selected these through my deeply scientific process of finding the cheapest option with the best reviews. As suggested for an adult, I ordered a blanket that is roughly 10% of my body weight. (For children, 10% + 1-2 pounds. Blankets are not recommended for children under the age of two due to risk of injury or death.)
blah blah blah, but does it work?
Yes it does.
The biggest difference I notice with this blanket is how deeply I sleep. It’s like dropping into a mild coma. I can sleep for two hours and wake up convinced it must be morning, yet I can then roll over and go back to sleep almost immediately. My brain doesn’t even have time to get started on the Freakout before it’s smothered back into unconsciousness by the mindless soothing embrace of the weighted blanket. You know when you wake up ten minutes before your alarm and then just lay there drowsing unhappily with your eyes closed, waiting for the buzzer to go off? Well I don’t know what you are talking about, friend, not anymore, because I am asleep for those ten minutes.
Another positive difference in my sleep is in the content and quality of my dreams. I have extraordinarily vivid and fantastical dreams, and often they are downright disturbing, particularly if viewed as a mirror into my subconscious. For example, I once dreamed that my child’s soul/spirit had somehow become unconnected from her unconscious body, and I was trying to comfort the panicking, crying spirit of my child but I could not touch her because my hands would go right through her, and also I did not know whether she was dead and how or even if I could get her soul back into her body.
I also sometimes experience hypnopompic hallucinations, or dream remnants that persist into my waking moments. These are usually intense and nightmarish, and if I didn’t have a convincing scientific explanation for them, I would tell you without hesitation that I was having supernatural experiences – black shadows scurrying across my ceiling, old women staring at me from dark corners, coal-eyed demons huddled at the foot of my bed. When I’m stressed, episodes occur more frequently.
Welcome to my blog; my brain is a terrifying place.
Before I started using the weighted blanket, I would have 2-3 dreams each night that I could recount the next morning. Now, I barely remember my dreams, and the most recent one I can recall was about a new embroidery piece I wanted to try. (Insert joke about how adding another piece to my tottering mountain of WIPs is indeed frightening, har har har.)
I not only do not get tired during the day, I have actually started getting up an hour early to write at 5am (yes, I am one of those people). Because of the blanket, I can get to sleep half an hour earlier than my usual and not even miss the half hour of sleep I have been shorted.
The weighted blanket has made a huge difference in the quality of my sleep, and therefore, my life in general. Is it placebo? I don’t really care, because I am asleep.
*Knowing it was impossible, I didn’t try.