The Truth (And Surprising Controversy) Behind the Weighted Blanket Trend

In recent months, weighted blankets have skyrocketed in popularity — but the reasons behind this sleep accessory’s rise to fame have sparked quite a bit of controversy.

Within the span of a year, weighted blankets have become very trendy among celebrities and the social media masses. But before they were featured on Kourtney Kardashian’s Twitter profile, they were predominantly used for therapeutic purposes within the special-needs community. So, while many are feeling excited about the weighted blanket’s peak in popularity, some folks are worried that it’s indicative of appropriation — and that something used to treat those with disabilities shouldn’t be marketed as a hip, new trend.

To gain a better understanding of the controversy surrounding the weighted blanket fad, I spoke with an occupational therapist and a special education teacher who shared their professional (and personal) opinions on the inner-workings of the weighted blanket world.

How Do Weighted Blankets Work?

Though they range in style, all weighted blankets feature an internal liner with small, sewn-in pockets that are filled with a weighted material (typically plastic pellets or glass beads). Most weighted blankets weigh between 10 and 25 pounds, and are designed to provide what’s known as Deep Pressure TouchThe blanket’s exterior can consist of any kind of fabric, though cotton, flannel, and fleece are among the most popular.

So, how does Deep Pressure Touch work? To find out, I spoke with occupational therapist Annie Schlecht of the Sleepopolis Expert Network, who told me weighted blankets rely on “proprioceptive input.”

Light touch, such as a tickle on the neck, can often be alerting or irritating. Conversely, Deep Pressure Touch, like a big bear hug, is more calming to the central nervous system. The reason weighted blankets are beneficial for sleep is due to the fact that deep pressure can help facilitate the release of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter), and then serotonin helps in the production of melatonin (our sleepy hormone).

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Personally testing the hug of a weighted blanket.

Schlecht went on to explain that weighted blankets are prominently featured within the world of occupational therapy, and have been used to treat patients with sensory processing disorders for decades. Essentially, the concept behind the weighted blanket is to replicate deep pressure therapy in an effort to allow the release of serotonin, which aids in relaxation.

So, Why Are Weighted Blankets So Popular Now?

The first weighted blankets date back to 1999, when occupational therapist Tina Champagne began using them to treat patients coping with mental and physical trauma. Fast-forward to the present and weighted blankets are increasingly featured in “Must-Have Gift Lists,” ads on Instagram, and were even listed in Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2018” roundup. If weighted blankets have been around for years, one has to wonder: Why are they so popular now?

Well, the primary reason is that, until recently, weighted blankets were mainly marketed to and within the special-needs community. As Schlecht mentioned, those with autism, Aspergers, PTSD, and other sensory processing disorders have historically used weighted blankets to alleviate anxiety and calm the nervous system. But in 2017, bedding brand Gravity Blanket launched a Kickstarter campaign to make weighted blankets accessible to everybody, advertising them as a cozy sleep accessory rather than a medical aid.

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Girls night in!

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Within a year of the hyper-successful Kickstarter campaign, myriad brands emerged, and weighted blankets swiftly became the super-trendy hashtag they are today. Influencers like Kourtney Kardashian, JoJo Fletcher, and Vanessa Grimaldi have all celebrated the fad on social media, crediting weighted blankets with helping them achieve a great night’s sleep… But not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for the campaign’s success.

For those who use weighted blankets to cope with trauma, anxiety, and physical disabilities, advertisements featuring happy, able-bodied people flaunting their sensory sleep accessories can be triggering. In fact, some folks (particularly within the special-needs community) have taken to various online forums to express their frustration.

The Controversy Behind The Weighted Blanket’s Rise to Fame

Before Gravity Blanket started selling its own weighted accessories for upwards of $200 a pop, most sensory blankets typically cost around $80. The uptick in price aside, many feel that weighted blankets were appropriated from the special-needs community, and re-marketed as a hip fad. Parents of children with disabilities have voiced concern about the growing trend, asserting that mainstream media did not invent weighted blankets — they’ve been used for decades.

To hear more about this controversy, I spoke with a special education teacher. Though she wishes to remain anonymous, she told me that she frequently uses sensory blankets to relax her students (particularly those with ASD), and she worries that this increased demand for weighted blankets might also increase cost:

The higher demand for these newer, name-brand weighted blankets has definitely affected the whole market, and we can tell that some of the earlier, less popular companies have taken a hit. My kids with ASD do feel really comforted by Deep Pressure Touch, so I’m hoping this weighted blanket trend doesn’t increase prices too much.

Though she expressed concerns about the growing trend, she asserted that weighted blankets should be used by anybody who benefits from the healing power of Deep Pressure Therapy. However, she reminded me that it’s important to remember where weighted blankets began, and respect those who use them for purposes unrelated to sleep.

On a personal note, I must admit that when I first endeavored to write this piece, I had no idea this controversy existed. I also thought that weighted blankets were invented one year ago. So, after combing through online forums and gaining a wider perspective, I realized there’s actually a lot of hurt felt from certain disenfranchised communities.

That being said, while it’s irrefutable that everyone is entitled to great sleep and comfort, there needs to be more awareness surrounding the origin of this bedroom accessory.

Sleeping With Anxiety

Though the weighted blanket may have become something of a fashion trend, experts agree they are very useful in curbing anxiety. Recent polling data compiled by the American Psychiatric Association found that 40% of Americans feel more anxious in 2018 than in 2017, following a 38% uptick from 2017 to 2016. So, with Americans feeling more anxious with every passing year, maybe the weighted blanket movement is just what the doctor ordered.

Related: Anxiety keeping you awake? Learn more about insomnia from the Sleepopolis Expert Network. 

In my conversation with Schlecht, she told me that weighted blankets have risen in popularity because of “marketing techniques that promise a good night’s sleep.” However, she also told me that, if used properly, they can be very beneficial as a calming technique. So, perhaps the takeaway is that anyone in need of some R&R could potentially benefit from a weighted blanket, but those dealing with specific sensory conditions should always be considered first.

Featured Image Courtesy of @gravityblankets on Instagram

Sarah Riccio

Sarah is the former senior writer and bedding expert at Sleepopolis. She received her degree in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and spends her free time doing stand-up, making pasta, and hanging with her cats.

27 thoughts on “The Truth (And Surprising Controversy) Behind the Weighted Blanket Trend”

  1. For a week I had severe abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, though I am extremely healthy and run every morning. I couldn’t understand it. Then I realised, this coincided with buying a weighted blanket (which, ironically, I bought for anxiety). The blanket came off – the pain went. The blanket was obviously restricting my body’s ability to digest food at night.

  2. I’m glad I found that others had the same experience that I had. Since I got the 12 lb blanket I’ve had knee and lower back pain. It’s good to know that this was the probable cause. It’s off my bed for good now!!

  3. I am awake at 3am due to numbness in my right foot amd pain in the left shoulder. I have used the weighted blanket for the past three nights. I glad for this article because this feeling of numbness is alarming. I have always felt that the blanket is a bit heavy. I will sleep without it for a few nights to see if there is a difference. If this is the case, there needs to be more info concerning this matter. I also did not know you weren’t supposed to sleep under them for hours. Wow!

  4. Glad to read this. I work in pain management. I didn’t even put my symptoms together with my blanket use until I spoke with a coworker who casually mentioned he had similar symptoms and had been using his weighted blanket recently. I started sleeping with my WB 3 nights ago, typically I just lounge in it occasionally. Ever since, I’ve had dreadful lower leg cramps including nerve symptoms like burning, numbness, cold in my feet. I’ll try sleeping without tonight and see if I start to see improvement. It literally feels like I have no circulation in lower legs.

  5. I have only had my weighted blanket for 2 weeks. Since then, I have sadly noticed aching in my arms legs and chest. It is definitely heavy and the feeling of the weight helps with my sleep and anxiety, however the body aches don’t seem worth it. I’m glad that I saw this article because I wasn’t sure what was causing the pain, but now it is very obvious :(.

  6. I used a weighted blanket for the first time and when I got into bead, it felt so warm and nice to be under the weight. However, I woke up around 4:30am with deep back pains. Because it was so late/early, I just pulled the blanket down so I was uncovered from the waist up and then shift from my back to my side. When I got up around 8am I felt awful. I felt as stiff as I would coming off a 40 hour flight. I hurt from my neck down to my lower back and couldn’t even walk normally. This lasted two days.

    Though I was feeling fine when I used the blanket, I do have a back injury from a car accident years ago that weakened my back. Maybe because my joints or muscles were weak (even though I wasn’t feeling weak) it was too much for me to handle for that prolonged time. There just aren’t many reviews about people’s experiences with pain using the blanket. Something people should be aware of as a possibility!

  7. Been reading the comments …… really interesting! I started to use a weighted blanket about 10 days ago and during the last week have had aching joints – elbows and knee joints in particular. Couldn’t work out what was causing this. Am sending it back today (still within 30-day try out period). Another thing is that I don’t think it really helped my sleep in any appreciable way,. especially considering what it cost. I was dropping off just the same and waking early. Nothing new there! Pre-blanket I could sometimes drop back off when I woke up at 4.00am. However, since getting the blanket on waking at 4.00am I would find that the blanket had slipped over the side of the bed pulling all of the bed clothes with it necessitating a bed-making session. No way I was going to drop back off after that!! Horrible thing -can’t wait to get rid!

  8. So glad I came across this article because I could not figure out what was giving me pain in both my shoulders and hips. Then I realised it must be from pulling the weighted blanket up and when sleeping on my side the pressure of it on my hips. Now I’m ditching it.

  9. I too, have been using a weighted blanked for 5 months. In this time I had had unexplained shoulder and hip pain. Then I came across this article. I cannot find any studies at all relating to joint pain with weighted blankets and I think its about time someone actually did a scientific study. The blankets are targeted for mental health, but not one company discloses the dangers it puts on your body and joints. Do not buy one, it is not worth the pain and pain medication you will need to take.

  10. So glad I came across this article because I could not figure out what was giving me pain in both my shoulders and hips. Then I realised it must be from pulling the weighted blanket up and when sleeping on my side the pressure of it on my hips. Now I’m ditching it.

  11. People need to reposition and move in their sleep. It’s not “tossing and turning”. It’s assuring blood flow and preventing muscle cramps and limbs falling asleep etc. these trendy blankets inhibit this. It’s useful for special needs children. Are you a special needs child? No? These blankets are inappropriate for adults and I won’t be surprised when in a few years the negative effects of pinning down your entire body under restrictive weight for 8 out of every 24 hours hits headlines.

  12. I appreciate all the responses as well. I’ve been using the blanket nightly. It caused such poor circulation in my body and as well as my digestive system that I ended becoming constipated for about a week. It was a combination of not enough fiber in my system and too much pressure on my organs to function properly. I’ve never had this problem before. If there’s anybody else who’s had this exact problem I would love to hear about it! Has the blanket made anybody else constipated?

  13. I stumbled here when trying to find more information about weighed blankets after getting back pains from it. My blanket is 10% of my weight and after the first night using it, I had lower back pain. After the second night I woke up multiple times and hours before I typically wake, I had excruciating lower back pains like never before. I read multiple articles that provided little warning about the side effects or possible danger of it’s use. Needless to say I’m thankful for this article and everyone’s comments.

  14. The weighted blanket made half my body fall asleep and I was in such a deep sleep that I did not wake up in time. I woke up feeling paralyzed on half my body and was desperately shaking for my circulation. It was such bad paresthesia that I pinched a nerve and had tingling for 24 straight hours.

    It was a horrible experience and I never want to use a weighted blanket again. It was very scary because this has never happened to me before and I thought something horrible was happening to me.

    I was only using it for the warmth anyways. So, personally, I hate these weighted blankets.

  15. I have been using a weighted blanket for over a year. I absolutely love it! It is very comfortable and helps me sleep. I too have been experiencing extreme knee, hip and leg pain. I had to stop exercising last September. Started physical therapy in December. Was diagnosed with tendinopathy, hip bursitis, and a torn meniscus in the knee. 2 months of physical therapy with very little relief. Tried dry needling which temporarily helped as did a steroid dose pack. I came across this article a couple of weeks ago and decided to stop using my blanket. Relief almost immediately. Though I still have pain, I went from a 9 of 10 to a 1-2 of 10 on the pain scale. I wish I knew this before I got my blanket.

  16. I hope you’ll answer me. I just got it today. Is a mildest of mild slightly almost like a tingle in my legs. Normal? When the blanket is over them? I’m super restless in bed. I don’t stop moving. Probably in my sleep move every 10-15 seconds. Asleep or not. I’ve been known to start correctly and end up with my head at the end of bed when I wake. So I’m really hoping the blanket works. But the tingle. Is that because my legs are restless (maybe the cause of why I move so much?) it doesn’t hurt or anything. Just a weird sensation.

    • Hey Pebs! A slight tingling in the legs is not uncommon when using a weighted blanket, especially if you’re using it for more than 45 minutes at a time. It could be because of mild muscle fatigue, or even disruption of blood flow. That said, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider with any questions about using weighted blankets and/or nighttime restlessness as they’ll be able to thoroughly assess you!

  17. My son bought me a weighted blanket for Christmas. I love it, but… I noticed after using it a few weeks my shoulder started hurting. I couldn’t figure out why at 1st. Then I thought maybe it’s my 20 pound blanket. I toss and turn in my sleep and the blanket was heavy and harder each night to move. I went to urgent care and they had given me pain meds to help with the pain, because I cannot move my shoulder without pain. Just Monday I went to an Orthopedic and he gave me a steroid shot in my shoulder, he’s treating it as Bursitis. But even with all that it still hurts. Now I I’m scheduled for a MRI. I guess what I’m saying is please be careful when using the weighted blanket.

  18. After sleeping with a 12 lb weighted blanket for a month, my hips and lower back are in pain. It occurred to me that maybe it is the blanket. I have just found a few stories claimed the blanket causes this. I will only use this when awake from now on.

  19. Tried the weighted blanket for a couple of months, slept much better.
    Lately noticed my hips became extremely sore, so my wife hinted it could be the blanket, to which I at first scoffed. I tried sleeping without it, and felt relief the first morning. Obviously, it is not for everyone.

  20. I received a weighted blanket for Christmas this year and since I have used it for sleeping with at night I have started to have unexplained knee pain and now my lower back and hips are in agony. I am beginning to think that the blanket is causing the pain. It was difficult to find information so thank you for posting about the proper usage.

  21. I gave my partner a weighted blanket for his ADD and sleep issues, and it worked like a charm for a couple of years. Wanting to try it myself (no ADD, just wanting the “hug” factor”) I got a throw-blanket sized one and really enjoyed it, but then I wanted more. He was not using his anymore and let me borrow it. It is more than 10% of my body weight, but I loved it. Unfortunately, I also started having hip and leg issues that scared me because three years ago I had back surgery for nerve issues in my legs and I did NOT want to go through that again. I’ve taken the blanket off of my bed and am hopeful that that was the cause since the timing coincided. Thank you for writing!

  22. Question about the time limits on weighted blankets. I cannot find that information anywhere else. In fact most places are touting the benefits of sleeping under the blanket for full nights. Where are you getting that information about only using a weighted blanket for 20 – 30 minutes at a time? You may be totally correct, I’d just like to know how that was tested and where that recommendation comes from.

  23. Also landed on this article because I was trying to find out anyone else in the world was waking up in pain (there’s not much said about it, but I’ve found a few mentions here and there). No one anywhere mentions that this should be used in increments. I’m wondering how that’s supposed to work exactly. I’m supposed to wake up several times a night to take it off? That’s not likely. I’ve been using it for a week now and my chest, shoulders and upper back are sore, even though I’m using a 12lb blanket and that’s less than 10% of my weight.

    I think this item will, unfortunately, have to get returned.

  24. Found the above question from Carole and your response very interesting as I too have been having leg weakness since using my new 15lb weighted blanket to sleep. I also suddenly have severe left knee pain (I tend to sleep left side). Prior to use I had no issues with my legs/knee. Began my search today for answers and ran across your article. No where in the weighted blanket marketing online does it state using the blanket in timed increments. In the rush to make the almighty dollar it’s possible injures will occur with the uninformed public. Thank you for informing us of the correct use!

  25. Hello Ms. Riccio,
    I have used a 12 lb blanket for about ten days.
    On October 2nd, I woke with wobbly, unsteady
    legs and feet. This morning, October 10th, legs
    not reliable, felt unsafe for first 30 minutes.
    I’m beginning to wonder if the blanket is responsible.

    What do you think??
    p.s My mother was a Riccio – from Belleville / Newark area, NJ

    • Hi Carole,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this! Let me start by clarifying a few things about weighted blankets. Firstly, weighted blankets are not meant to be slept under for hours at a time, and should be used in increments of 20-30 minutes. Additionally, you should take breaks of 90 minutes in between use. Following these guidelines can guard against muscle fatigue, and help ensure that you’re not becoming desensitized to deep pressure touch. That said, I definitely suggest you consult with your healthcare provider to gain some clarity regarding your recent symptoms. Good luck and feel free to reach out in the future!

      P.S. That’s so funny! I’m from New York so I’ll bet we’re related in some form or fashion ;-)

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