Using a Weighted Blanket May Naturally Boost a Key Sleep Hormone, Study Finds

A small Swedish study found evidence of increased melatonin in healthy adults who used a weighted blanket before bed.


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For many people who struggle with anxiety and poor sleep, weighted blankets are one cozy, wellness luxury well worth the small investment. Countless shoppers swear by the calming benefits of weighted blankets, reporting better sleep, lower stress and anxiety, and overall increased feelings of relaxation. Most of these weighted blanket wellness claims are anecdotal, but with no side effects or doctor’s prescription needed, who wouldn’t want to give this natural sleep solution a try? If you feel like it helps you sleep and chill out, that’s great! Worst case scenario: It’s not for you, so you return it or give it away as a thoughtful gift.

But scientifically speaking, there aren't many studies to confirm the alleged benefits of lying under a weighted blanket. That’s why researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden conducted a small study to find out whether using a weighted blanket—compared to using a light blanket—can actually help boost sleep-promoting chemicals, such as melatonin and oxytocin, and decrease stress-related mechanisms, such as cortisol production and sympathetic nervous system activity, which can harm healthy sleep patterns.

Twenty-six young, healthy adults (15 men and 11 women) participated in the study. In one session they were covered with a weighted blanket (weighing about 12 percent of their body weight) for one hour before bedtime, followed by an eight-hour sleep window. Researchers collected saliva samples during the pre-sleep hour to measure changes in melatonin and other hormone concentrations. In the next session, participants were covered with a light blanket (2.4 percent of their body weight) for the night.

Ultimately, the results found “[n]o other significant differences” in participants’ levels of oxytocin, cortisol, sympathetic nervous system activity, subjective feelings of sleepiness, or total sleep duration. However, they did notice that when participants laid under a weighted blanket for an hour before bedtime, they exhibited about a 32 percent increase in salivary melatonin concentration compared to when they used the lighter blanket.

A quick refresher: Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland of the brain, and it’s involved in several bodily processes, including regulating the immune system, blood pressure, stress levels, and the sleep-wake cycle (or circadian rhythm). Melatonin itself does not put you to sleep like a magic sedative; instead, its release, triggered by the reduction in light at the end of the day, signals to the rest of the body’s sleep systems to kick into gear and get you ready to drift off for the night. Melatonin plays a big role in setting and maintaining an optimal circadian rhythm, your body's natural and unique sleep-wake cycle. While the body does produce its own melatonin on a nightly basis to set the sleep onset process in motion, there are a few ways to obtain melatonin from external sources—certain foods (like tart cherries and cow's milk, which contain melatonin) or melatonin supplements (which sleep experts only recommend using when trying to help reset your internal clock).

“Our study is the first to suggest that using a weighted blanket may result in a more significant release of melatonin at bedtime,” the study’s abstract reads, adding that more studies are needed to “ investigate whether the stimulatory effect on melatonin secretion is observed on a nightly basis when frequently using a weighted blanket over weeks to months.” 

While this study is quite small and just a first step exploring the health benefits of weighted blankets, it does suggest that this cozy, trendy sleep accessory may indeed positively promote sleep on a physiological level, supporting all the rave product reviews and anecdotes out there.

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