Morgan Heitel-Grantham went to a local Target to buy weighted blankets after seeing Facebook testimonials about the product’s purported sleep-altering benefits.
“Anxiety levels were already high with the holidays looming,” said Heitel-Grantham. She and her husband had spent the last nine years engaging in nightly bedroom battles over the covers. “I thought, ‘It sure would be nice to be able to get a good night’s sleep without having to fight for it.'”
Like many others who joined the blossoming weighted blanket renaissance in the past year, the mother of a 2-year-old toddler said the blanket changed her life.
“The first night’s sleep was indescribable. It does interesting things to the blood flow on your lower extremities. It was like someone was giving me a hug at just the right pressure points,” Heitel-Grantham, who’s a type-1 diabetic said of her November 2018 purchase. “The sleep was so deep that my toddler jumped on top of me, adding even more weight, and I didn’t even notice.”
The Grantham family is just one many American households joining in on the weighted blanket craze, using the trendy tarps stuffed with beads or sand to help them with sleep problems associated with medical conditions such as anxiety and Autism.
For years, many people did not know that weighted blankets existed, and those who did had to choose from a limited selection until last year when underground whispers about the hefty bedding gave way to months of media coverage.
Celebrities raved about the product, retail stores nationwide began selling variations of the heavy sheets and by the end of 2018, weighted blankets were on practically every gift guide on the internet.
And according to one of the weighted blanket industry’s most celebrated companies, sales of the heavy wellness blankets are expected to increase in 2019.
For decades, weighted blankets were used by a small community to treat children with Autism and adults with PTSD and other conditions. The blankets purportedly work by using deep-pressure therapy — similar to the comfort created by swaddling babies or getting deep tissue massages — to create more restful sleep.
“The pressure a weighted blanket provides when someone is trying to relax into sleep can be comforting,” said Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, a behavioral sleep psychologist who is a Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “People like the feeling of getting a hug or a massage. Sleeping under a weighted blanket provides a similar feeling.”
Donna Chambers first heard about the rest-altering benefits of weighted blankets in 2008 after her grandson was diagnosed with Autism. The 3-year-old was having trouble sleeping, a common experience for those on the Autism spectrum. Her daughter mentioned that heavier covers help with sleep and showed Chambers a handmade flyer that advertised a local weighted blanket seamstress.
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“So, I went on the internet to look them up and there were one or two places selling them, but they had really terrible websites,” Chambers said. “I was shocked that no one with a really nice website was selling them online.”
After checking the handmade goods website Etsy to find out how weighted blankets were constructed, Chambers commissioned the help of her pastor’s wife to stitch one from scratch for her grandson. And the results were more than positive. “My grandson loved it. It did help him sleep better and I thought, ‘We could make these and sell them on a better website,” Chambers said.
She started the Chattanooga, Tennessee, company SensaCalm in 2008, joining a niche of other anxiety-easing-sheet makers like Salt of the Earth Weighted Gear and Magic Weighted Blanket.
Constructed with weighted beads or plastic pellets cocooned in cotton or synthetic microfiber, weighted blankets are labor intensive when made by hand. SensaCalm’s trendy threads are individually made-to-order.
As popularity grew over the past decade, SensaCalm gained momentum. Chambers’ team swelled to 30 workers and the company has doubled its number of sales each year until 2018. That year, SensaCalm, which sells blankets starting at about $80 and spends very little on marketing, began facing stiff competition.
Chambers said she always feared that once companies started outsourcing manufacturing for the heavier-than-average covers, “it may put us out of business,” she said.
Gravity, the maker of a wildly popular weighted blanket, parlayed a successful Kickstarter campaign into a new spin of the product, marketing it to the general public.
The weighted blanket craze took off on the promise that the cover could produce a calming effect, corresponding with the nation’s increase in the number of reported anxiety sufferers.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s annual poll, 40 percent of Americans said they felt more anxious in 2018 than they did in 2017 – which saw a 36 percent increase over 2016.
Manufactured in China and sold for $249 at a number of retailers including Bed Bath and Beyond and Target, Gravity Blankets made $26.5 million and sold over 128,000 units over the past two years.
Though it’s too early in the year to project an exact figure, the company said in a statement to USA TODAY that it is “indeed forecasting growth” in 2019.
As a Kickstarter campaign, more than 23,000 backers pledged $4.7 million to bring the product to life. The blankets were engineered to be 10 percent of the user’s body weight.
Time magazine named the Gravity Blanket one of the best inventions of 2018.
The success that the Gravity Blanket maker saw was a bit of a surprise, according to Mike Grillo, the company’s co-founder and president.
“We were making best guess estimates on how much money we would raise, and I think the most ambitious was $100,000 dollars from backers,” Grillo said. “We made that within about the first hour.”
Since the Gravity Blanket took off, the company has manufactured a number of weighted spin-offs including a sleep mask, cooling blankets and duvet covers.
While more people may be bundling up beneath the heavy covers in 2019, experts warn that weighted blankets aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution for issues related to sleep.
“Weighted blankets aren’t usually a magic bullet if someone has sleep problems,” said Schneeberg, who treats adults with insomnia at Yale University. “A person might become unable to fall asleep every night without the weighted blanket and then need to take the blanket along when they sleep elsewhere.”
For some people, Schneeberg said, the weighted blankets can be too warm. She said that the best alternative is “having a good bedtime routine each night and simply reading a book until you become drowsy enough to fall asleep.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown