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Tips for those weighing whether to join the heavy-blanket craze

If 2017 was the year of the Instant Pot, 2018 was the year to gift or get a weighted blanket – a duvetlike bed cover weighing from five to 25 pounds. Never heard of one? Neither had I, until I got this assignment. But they are a hot commodity. For example, the Gravity Blanket, which began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017, reports $16.5 million in sales for 2018.

The theory is that a heavier-than-normal blanket hugs a sleeper, and may prevent tossing and turning. As a result, the sleeper feels more secure, and sleeps longer and more soundly.

The concept isn’t new. Heavy wraps have been used as a calming mechanism for children with autism, ADHD and other sensory disorders for more than a decade. Parents have swaddled their newborns for centuries. And the idea isn’t limited to humans: Pet owners can outfit their dogs and cats with “ThunderShirts” (weighted vests) to keep them from going bonkers during thunderstorms and fireworks.

With a few exceptions, weighted blankets are composed of 6-by-6-inch stitched squares (some brands are 4-by-4-inch) filled with tiny glass or plastic beads. The only real distinguishing feature is the exterior, which comes in an array of colors, patterns and fabrics such as cotton, flannel, microfiber and polyester.

How did weighted blankets morph from a therapeutic tool to the hottest must-have? Word-of mouth, says Bill Fish, co-founder of Tuck.com, a sleep resource website. “An acquaintance posted about one on Facebook and received 100 comments in the first 24 hours. People swear by their blankets. It’s astounding,” says Fish, who sleeps with one and has tested more than a dozen weighted blankets.

In the past year, interest in weighted blankets soared. In November 2018, Tuck.com recorded 1 million visitors, with the blanket page being the most visited. Sales of Mosaic Weighted Blankets doubled from 2017 to 2018, and SensaCalm has doubled its sales almost every year since launching in 2008. Mike Grillo, president of Gravity Products, says his company was totally sold out of blankets by Dec. 10.

“The holidays overwhelmed our expectations,” he says.

Medical science is just starting to, ahem, weigh in. There is little data on the efficacy of weighted blankets. As Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, points out, it’s tough to do a randomized double-blind trial on these products because they’re weighted blankets.

But Dasgupta is open to the use of weighted blankets. He sees sleep as a puzzle made up of pieces including sound, light, temperature and comfort; restless sleepers and those dealing with insomnia need to figure out their missing piece. For some, the answer is a white noise machine, blackout curtains, the perfect pillow or blue-light blockers. “For others, it’s the sensation of being hugged and cuddled – improved comfort,” Dasgupta says. “I truly believe people with sleep issues don’t want to be on prescription drugs for their lifetime. If a weighted blanket helps, I’m all for it.”

Blankets have another advantage over prescription sleep aids, the success of which may take days to determine. “With a weighted blanket, you can tell in one night,” Fish says.

That was the case with Kellsie Rees. Leg pain from being on her feet all day interrupted Rees’s sleep nightly. The discomfort, and the stress of running her woodworking company in Hadley, Massachusetts, motivated her to buy a 20-pound weighted blanket last September.

“As soon as I tried it, I knew I would use it every night. Not only did I stop waking up in the middle of the night, but I fall asleep almost instantly,” she says. Rees was so impressed that she bought one as a birthday gift for a friend with sleep issues. Her only complaint? “I travel a lot and can’t take it with me. I wish the hotels had loaners.”

If you’re thinking about adding a weighted blanket to your sleep routine, here’s what you need to know.

n There is no “must-buy” brand. Although well-known companies such as Sleep Number are getting into the weighted blanket game, there is no industry leader, Fish says. You’ll find weighted blankets at department stores, mass merchandisers, bedding shops and online on both shopping sites and sites for people with special needs.

n Weight matters. Most blankets are sold in 5-pound increments from 5 to 25 pounds. A general rule of thumb is to choose a blanket roughly 10 percent of your ideal body weight, says Laura LeMond, owner of Mosaic Weighted Blankets. But, you may need a heavier or lighter version, depending on personal preference. Young children under the age of 3 or weighing less than 50 pounds should not use a weighted blanket because of the risk of suffocation – there have been at least two child deaths involving the blankets. If you’re buying one for a child, err on the side of caution and get a blanket that’s less than 10 percent of their weight.

n They aren’t cheap. Weighted blankets sell for $70 to $300.

n Make sure you can wash it. Whether the blanket is a one-piece or slips into a cover, it is going to get dirty at some point. You want one that is machine-washable, says Donna Chambers, founder of SensaCalm.

n This is a solo act. Though weighted blankets come in various lengths, most are 48 inches wide, a bit narrower than a twin bed. “I do wish they were wider. When I roll, I end up half under and half outside the blanket,” Fish says. “It’s also an odd feeling having two different blankets on a bed and not sharing the covers with your partner.”

n You may get hot. No matter how cool you keep your bedroom, many people feel warm or even hot in bed because of their own body temperature and the composition of their mattress (foam and latex are hotter than springs). A heavy blanket may exacerbate the problem. If you “sleep warm,” look for a natural fiber cover or one designed to wick moisture.

n A return or exchange policy is a must. Some sellers offer trial periods so you can return the blanket for a refund or exchange for a different weight.

A weighted blanket isn’t for everyone. Some people feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable. Dasgupta says watching what you eat and drink and creating good sleep habits such as setting specific sleep/wake times and sticking to them can often help as much as external sleep aids. Even more important, put away the technology. He implores, “Don’t be under a weighted blanket looking at your smartphone.”

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