Better sleep: How to tackle insomnia with science – and a weighted blanket

Sleep better with a weighted blanket, which scientists have found is a safe and effective insomnia treatment

Insomnia
(Image credit: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash)

We all know sleep is vitally important to our mental and physical health. Unfortunately, chronic lack of sleep or insomnia is extremely common: in the UK for example, nearly one-quarter of adults get less than five hours sleep per night, despite seven-to-eight hours being the recommended amount, according to a study from insurance firm Aviva.

Fortunately, a new study has found a novel way of combating chronic insomnia: going to sleep under a weighted blanket.  

The study, conducted by researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, examined the effects of a weighted blanket on participants for a four-week period.

The results were extremely encouraging. The participants reported "significantly reduced insomnia severity, better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, and reduced symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety."

This is all said to be the work of the calming and sleep-promoting effect of the blanket's pressure. A "chain" weighted blanket targets different points on the body, stimulating your sense of muscles and joints. The participants were said to be 25 times more likely to have their insomnia severity decrease by 50% or more.

Dr Mats Aider, the study's lead author, said: "There is evidence suggesting that deep pressure stimulation increases parasympathetic arousal of the autonomic nervous system and at the same time reduces sympathetic arousal, which is considered to be the cause of the calming effect."

If you're having trouble nodding off in the first place, an easy (and free) solution is mindfulness meditation. It can be quite flippant to suggest something like meditation to battle chronic insomnia, but there is some evidence-based theory behind it. 

One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found those who did mindfulness meditation exercises before bed showed "significant improvements" on the negative health outcomes of insomnia, depression and fatigue. This includes inflammatory signalling caused by mental health issues and lack of sleep, which can be a precursor to cancer in some cases.

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