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Weighted blankets may have a measurable effect on sleep, according to a new study. Jimena Roquero/Stocksy
  • Industry experts expect sales of weighted blankets to reach $1.17 billion by 2026.
  • Looking into the effects of weighted blankets, researchers from Uppsala University found that they help naturally increase melatonin production in the body by about 30%.
  • The researchers found no significant changes in the levels of oxytocin, cortisol, or sympathetic nervous system activity.

Walk into any store today selling bed sheets and blankets, and chances are very good you will find weighted blankets for sale as well. While weighted blanket sales reached $399 million in 2019, industry experts expect sales to reach about $1.17 billion by 2026.

Past research shows weighted blankets may help people who have sleeping issues due to insomnia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.

Now, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have found evidence that using a weighted blanket increases the amount of melatonin — a hormone that helps you sleep — naturally produced in the body.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

The pineal gland of the brain creates the hormone melatonin.

The body naturally increases melatonin production when it turns dark outside, signaling the body it’s time to rest. This also helps ensure your body’s circadian rhythm — our 24-hour biological clock — is in sync, helping you sleep at night.

Although the body produces natural melatonin, people who struggle to fall and stay asleep might opt to take supplemental melatonin before bedtime.

Past research shows melatonin supplements may also help with certain conditions including migraines, traumatic brain injury, and tinnitus.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not currently regulate melatonin supplements.

While it is unlikely for a person to overdose on melatonin, taking too much may result in side effects including:

A weighted blanket is a blanket with a weighted material sewn into the fabric. The weighted material used in these blankets is usually glass or plastic pellets or beads.

Weighted blankets are available in different weights, normally ranging between 5 to 30 lbs. The weighted blanket a person selects should be equal to between 5% to 12% of their body weight.

“Weighted blankets have become quite popular, as they may help to fall asleep,” Christian Benedict, associate professor of pharmacology at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences at Uppsala University in Sweden and senior author of this study, told Medical News Today.

“Many companies selling these blankets claim that weighted blankets improve sleep by, e.g., increasing well-being hormones such as oxytocin and sleep-promoting hormones such as melatonin. However, there was no scientific evidence to support these claims. Hence, we performed this small study,” he said.

In their paper, the researchers disclosed that the blankets used in the study were provided by Cura of Sweden, a company selling weighted blankets in Europe. In addition, one of the study authors, who was not interviewed by MNT, is an employee of this company. The authors state the funders had no role in the study design or data analysis.

For this study, Benedict and his team measured the amount of melatonin, oxytocin, and cortisol in the saliva of 26 young men and women after sleeping with either a light blanket or a weighted blanket equal to 12% of each person’s body weight.

Upon analysis, researchers found using a weighted blanket increased a participant’s melatonin concentration in their saliva by about 30%.

The research team reported no change in the amount of oxytocin or cortisol in participants’ saliva. Additionally, the scientists did not measure a change in the activity of the participants’ sympathetic nervous systems.

Benedict stated he was not surprised to find evidence that a weighted blanket helped increase a person’s melatonin levels.

“In addition to light, meals, and physical activity, it is conceivable that lying in bed covered by a blanket may additionally promote the release of melatonin. Due to their more significant pressure on the body, weighted blankets may amplify this process,” he explained.

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. Rafael J. Sepulveda, medical director of Sleep Fit Medical Sleep & Weight Management Center in Sonoma, California, who was not involved in the study. He said he was also not surprised by the findings.

“Looking back at the available data, it’s suggestive that deep pressure stimulation with weighted blankets produces a decrease in sympathetic neuron stimulation, which means that the patient would be having less arousals or awakenings when trying to initiate or maintain sleep. This could be a promoting factor producing the change in melatonin levels noticed in the study,” he detailed.

“Even when it remains slightly unclear the mechanism in which weight blankets influence sleep, I can say that clinically (that) deep pressure stimulation brings some sleep quality benefits in some patients. “I believe the role of weight blankets can be an adjunctive measure to improve certain insomnia symptoms, especially in patients with anxiety related to achieving sleep.”
— Dr. Rafael J. Sepulveda

For the next steps of this research, Benedict said larger trials are needed, “including an investigation of whether the observed effects of a weighted blanket on melatonin are sustained over longer periods.”

Dr. Sepulveda said the same study would need to be conducted with a larger sample size to validate the findings.

“[I would like to see] the evaluation of changes in melatonin and cortisol levels in the same subjects across the life span or same measurement in subjects of different age ranges, since usually with normal aging process sleep disturbances seem to be more clinically prevalent,” he said.

“[I would also like to see the] evaluation of the correlation between pre-sleep salivary concentration of melatonin and arousability index by serial polysomnography in patients without and with use of weight blankets, (and the) effects of weight blankets of different weights in the same subjects,” he added.