This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on March 8, 2018
Feeling stressed out? Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders - making anxiety the most common mental illness in the country. At the same time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 50 to 70 million adults display some form of sleeping disorder - with 40% of the adult population reporting that they experience insomnia. As the prevalence of these disorders continues to grow, more and more consumers are looking for new ways to de-stress and sleep easier. While there are plenty of new high-tech sleep gadgets in the marketplace today, one of the most intriguing is the weighted “anxiety blanket.” Inspired by a decades-old therapy practice called “deep pressure touch,” these heavy blankets have long been used to help increase relaxation and relieve anxiety - and are now entering the consumer market as a non-pharmacological treatment for insomnia. Simple in design and backed by scientific research, weighted blankets are an exciting new opportunity for retailers looking to expand their sleep product offerings.
The science behind the weighted blanket is not new. In fact, the practice has long been used as a therapeutic aid for children with developmental disorders and more recently for adults with acute mental-health issues. Research has shown that having 7 to 12 percent of your body weight resting on top of you reduces the secretion of cortisol and triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain—a combination that works to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. In addition to relieving anxiety, the production of serotonin can also be converted into melatonin, which helps induce sleep. According to a 2015 study from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg, the use of a weighted blanket not only increased sleep time and decreased sleep movements, but participants reported that it was easier to settle down and felt more refreshed in the morning. Another study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that weighted blankets help improve sleep satisfaction and reduce both pain and stress.
The use of weighted blankets to promote relaxation and better sleep has become more popular as of late, thanks to a new company called Gravity Blanket. The start-up made a big splash recently, as its Kickstarter campaign quickly blew past its fund-raising goal of $21,500 with a final count of $4,729,263. While the basic concept behind the Gravity Blanket has been used as a therapeutic aid for decades, the company elevated the design to better appeal to the consumer market. Made from 15 to 25 pounds of “non-toxic plastic pellets and a cotton polyester blend mix,” the blanket delivers all the relaxation benefits of increased serotonin and melatonin – while a cover made from ultra-soft microfibers ensures added sleep comfort.
Though the research studies have stopped short of claiming weighted blankets can be used to “treat” or “cure” insomnia, there is plenty of anecdotal information about their efficacy. In a recent article for the New Yorker, writer Jia Tolentino reported of her first night using the Gravity Blanket: “I couldn’t move or see anything, which felt wonderful. That night I slept so deeply that I woke up unnerved.”
In today’s stress-filled world, any product that promises to help you turn off your brain for a while can feel revolutionary. But, ultimately, the appeal of a weighted blanket lies in its simplicity. As some consumers worry about the long-term effects of high-tech devices and pharmacological aids, they serve as an easy-to-understand, analog solution to common sleep problems. And with price points hovering around $250, the growing weighted blanket category could be a new, valuable opportunity for traditional bedding retailers looking to boost their sales.
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