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They’re all over Instagram, and very likely on one of your friend’s beds. Weighted blankets (sometimes referred to as gravity blankets) are all the rage, and while they’re just now going mainstream, they’ve actually been around for years.
Originally used to help children with sensory disorders such as autism, these blankets follow the same concept of swaddling babies, says Theresa Marko, MS, DPT, owner of Marko Physical Therapy in New York City. The extra heft that comes from the seed filling (or other dense material) provides compression; a sense of being squeezed. “Compression calms down your nervous system and makes you feel more relaxed,” Marko adds.
Which is why, with today’s ultra-high stress levels and burnout, people have turned to the blankets to mitigate stress and anxiety. “In previous years we were a Prozac nation, and many people were taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) [to try to calm down],” says Marko. “[But] as the side effects have become known to be so adverse, people are looking toward more holistic ways to deal…[and] things like weighted blankets help to do that.”
Research is beginning to show Marko may be right, too. One study suggests that slow, gentle touch (similar to what you’d experience using a weighted blanket) can stimulate parts of the limbic system that process emotions and fear. Another found that those who wore a weighted blanket during wisdom tooth extraction experienced enhanced activity in the part of the nervous system that takes over when you’re feeling chill.
As for muscle recovery, Marko says weighted blankets could help get you in top form faster, as the compression helps alleviate swelling and inflammation. “A secondary benefit is a good night’s sleep, which is what really helps your muscles recover,” she adds. (And some research suggests weighted blankets can battle insomnia.)
That said, the effects of weighted blankets seem to be hyper-personal, and may even make matters worse. In one small study, adults rested under 30-pound blankets for five minutes. While many said they felt more relaxed or didn’t notice a difference, some noted they actually felt more anxious when under the blanket.
All that’s to say that, if you’re curious about weighted blankets, it’s not a terrible idea to try. But given their cost—they can range anywhere from $150 to $300—you may want to try hanging out under a lot of heavy quilts, first.