Four years ago, Arianna Huffington — author, businesswoman and co-founder of The Huffington Post — urged us to take bedtime more seriously in her book The Sleep Revolution. Years before that, she had already started promoting its value, including improved immune system, healthier brain function, boosted emotional wellbeing, better balanced hormones, quicker cell repair and so much more. As did a champion of nap time, Tricia Hersey — poet, performance artist, activist and founder of The Nap Ministry. Rest, as she said, is “a form of resistance”.
Whether napping or sleeping , not all of us find it easy to nod off without a little help from some aids and rituals. According to Business Tech using data from Sleep Cycle, an app that tracks your snooze patterns, only 27% of South Africans get the recommended eight hours of slumber, so we need all the assistance we can get. One particular helper has captured our attention of late. The weighted blanket, aka the gravity blanket. It’s not the newest kid on the block, but it’s only recently gone mainstream thanks to growing trends in wellness and wellbeing — and it’s easy to add to your online shopping cart.
While weighted blankets can vary as hefty comforters or woven cocoons, they are mostly what their name suggests. Their outers can be made from a mix of materials, but they are usually filled with beads made from glass, plastic or fibres from recycled plastic.
Their purpose is to add physical pressure to your body to comfort you. It’s like receiving a big hug or being spooned, in the same way swaddling helps calm newborns. Even though research is thin on the blankets’ benefits, the practice of using this kind of weighted object as therapy has been used for years in psychiatry to help with autism and behavioural imbalances.
The simulation is said to relax the nervous system and reduce anxiety by encouraging the body to release serotonin and dopamine, both feel-good hormones, and reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) — and that helps give you better quality sleep.
You’ll find many lists of the best-rated blankets across sites such as New York’s The Strategist, Vogue and Wired. Standard guidelines recommend that you choose one roughly a 10th of your body weight.
On the luxury or premium leader board are Yaasa’s hand-knitted and breathable blankets with evenly distributed weight, followed by Bearaby’s similar open-knit but biodegradable and machine-washable napper. Brooklinen’s hypoallergenic weighted comforter is suitable for allergy sufferers, and if you’re looking for something organic, try Saatva’s natural glass-bead and organic cotton fibres that are free from toxic chemicals and dyes and Fair Trade certified.
Locally, Weighted Blankets South Africa offers luxury 300-thread count Egyptian cotton gravity blankets. GreenLeaf Home has 100% cotton weighted blankets, while Takealot has premium cotton glass-beaded weight blankets up for grabs.
Dr Cristina Cusin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in an article published in Harvard Health Publishing, warns that some people should check with their doctor before using a weighted blanket — or avoid them all together. They include sleep apnea sufferers and those with respiratory problems or other chronic medical conditions.