Older adults aren’t immune to the problems of sleeplessness and anxiety. In fact, declining health and other issues of aging can actually add to the likelihood that seniors will develop sleeping and anxiety issues.
Insomnia and anxiety can be treated with medication, but many older adults may not want to add medication to their life, especially if the symptoms are mild or intermittent. That’s where a weighted blanket can help.
What is a weighted blanket?
Weighted blankets are just what they sound like—blankets designed to be heavy. Weighted blankets are heavier than a regular comforter and can weigh anywhere from 4 to 30 pounds.
While the materials used in weighted blankets vary by manufacturer, most weighted blankets have an inner lining filled with a heavy material, often plastic pellets. Some manufacturers fill their blankets with glass pellets, which makes the blankets thinner than those filled with plastic pellets.
Benefits of weighted blankets
It may seem odd to think that weighted blankets can help with anxiety and sleeplessness, but studies have shown this may be true.
A 2012 study found that psychiatric patients who used a weighted blanket showed fewer signs of anxiety than those who did not. In another study, 63% of study participants reported lower levels of anxiety when using a weighted blanket.
Another study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders looked at how using a weighted blanket affected sleep patterns, finding that participants who used a weighted blanket experienced longer bouts of sleep and moved less while sleeping. Participants also reported feeling more refreshed upon waking after sleeping with the weighted blanket.
While none of these studies focused exclusively on seniors, occupational therapist Anne Rogers said weighted blankets can be a good option for older adults because they provide deep pressure, which activates the sensory input in our muscles and joints.
“This sensory input can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and agitation, increase comfort and promote rest,” she said. “The therapeutic benefits from weighted blankets and lap blankets can be beneficial for dementia, Alzheimer’s patients and many others.”
Choosing a weighted blanket
Picking the right weighted blanket is somewhat a matter of personal taste, but a good rule of thumb is to choose a blanket that’s about 10% of the user’s body weight. For example, a 120-pound person would probably be most comfortable with a 12-pound blanket.
While the 10% rule is a good place to start, you may find you or your loved one prefer a heavier (or lighter) blanket. When it comes to weight, it may take a little experimentation to find the right blanket to meet personal preferences.
Weighted blankets also come in a variety of styles—everything from a comforter-style blanket to one that looks as if it’s been knitted. So, whether you’re looking for a utilitarian option or one that becomes part of your room decor, you have plenty of styles from which to choose.
Things to keep in mind
Weighted blankets are a tool, and while some research supports their use in dealing with anxiety and insomnia, they are not a cure-all.
Creating healthy practices around sleep – like only using the bedroom for sleeping and putting screens away an hour before bedtime – also play an important role when it comes to improving sleep patterns.
Moderate-to-severe anxiety may require therapy and/or medication in addition to the use of a weighted blanket to help your senior live a healthier, happier life.
While there are plenty of benefits from weighted blankets, Rogers noted they aren’t for everyone.
“There are contraindications that must be considered for people with certain medical conditions and physical limitations,” she said. “Always check with your medical professional to see if it is appropriate for use with your loved one.”
For example, weighted blankets may not be a good option for seniors who struggle to control their body temperature, as the weight of the blanket can trap a lot of heat underneath. Some manufacturers use bamboo fabric to provide a cooler option, but weighted blankets are very warm no matter what they’re made of.
Seniors who have recently had surgery or who already have restricted mobility may want to choose either a lighter weighted blanket or forgo the blanket altogether as the weight of the covering can restrict their movement even further.
Are weighted blankets worth a try?
If the senior in your life struggles with sleeplessness or anxiety, a weighted blanket is a good option to try. The blanket generally causes no harm, and some evidence shows it helps with both issues.