‘I tried sleeping with a weighted blanket to calm my anxiety’

Last year I started experiencing those for-no-reason panic attacks — I’d be lying in bed and suddenly find myself unable to move or breathe while my mind forced forward thoughts like, “Did I turn off my hair straightener?” Remembering that my straightener had been broken for two weeks did little to quell the hysteria. And on it went…

In my search to calm down and rediscover sleep, I was introduced to an innocuous little item usually referred to as a weighted blanket. Basically, it’s a really heavy blanket. Medicinally heavy, in fact — they’re supposed to come in at 10 per cent of your body weight. And while they’ve enjoyed a recent resurgence as a sleep aid (you’ve probably caught wind of at least one crowdfunding campaign to the effect) they’ve actually been used for years to help everyone from children with autism and dogs with anxiety to PTSD sufferers with depression. How can one little blanket do all that? Fair question, let’s find out…

Like what you see? up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this. And no, we won’t spam you.

Essentially, the deep-pressure stimulation works on your parasympathetic nervous system in the same way light touch works on your sympathetic nervous system. Clear as the Aussie cricket team’s reputation? Put more simply: a brush against your leg will stimulate your fight-or-flight response while a bear hug from someone you love will stimulate your rest-and-digest response. The two systems are like a seesaw — when one goes up, the other goes down. With that in mind, you can see how something like a weighted blanket works to keep someone calm and focused.

In terms of what it feels like, it’s akin to having a really flat person lying on top of you. Like being embraced by SpongeBob SquarePants, I suppose. It’s not unlike getting a deep-tissue massage, either, only all at once and there are no hands involved. If you’ve ever worn compression socks on a long-haul flight or watched a baby fall asleep after being swaddled, it’s not dissimilar. After starting to use one myself, I find my anxiety dropping like Drake on a beat. Using it only when I can feel the angst welling, I find I’m able to focus more, freak out less and get on with the business of sleeping, eating and healing without entirely useless panic attacks getting in the way of my Stranger Things marathons.

A warning, though — while I refer to mine as Dwayne Johnson, because it rocks my world, these aren’t for everyone. This kind of stimulation works differently for each person, and while there are links between physiological arousal and anxiety levels, you don’t know which way the mood seesaw will swing for you until you try it.

For instance, ever come out of deep-tissue massage feeling melancholy or disoriented? That’s because deep-pressure touch can have a powerful effect on the brain, so what I liked, you may loathe. Then again, the same goes for men and cocktails — we’re all of us individuals with opinions to burn.

For my pair of pennies, though, anything that stops you from reaching for sleeping pills is probably a good thing. Of course, the same can be said for regular exercise and a healthy diet, so maybe don’t expect a passive object to take the place of working to better yourself as a human being. It’s just a blanket, after all… even Linus eventually let Snoopy make his into a poncho. But if you’re struggling with anxiety and sleep, it’s definitely worth a try.

Emma is a comedian, writer and b+s’ intrepid trend guinea pig. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @markyknowsbest.


What: Weighted blankets.

Where: neptuneblanket.com.au

How much: Lap blankets start from $89.

I loved: The womb-ish feeling I got from being draped in one.

I wonder: If my neighbour’s dog who yaps for hours on end would like one.