Weighted Blankets Could Replace Your Daily Melatonin, a New Study Suggests
You're lying in bed—actually, more accurately, tossing and turning—watching the clock tick from 2:03 a.m. to 2:04 a.m. You toss some more, count sheep, flip on a sound machine, slip on an eye mask yet still, come 4:03 a.m., the night crawls along and you still haven't slept a wink. If you're among the many Americans who struggle to snooze soundly, this is an all-too-familiar feeling.
Nearly 1 in 2 Americans (45%, according to estimates from the National Sleep Foundation) admit that poor or insufficient sleep impacted their daily activities at least once in the past seven days. When you get the recommended seven to nine hours, you support everything from your heart health and brain health to your immunity and energy levels.
With nearly half of us struggling to score enough shut-eye, paired with all of the health claims about supplemental melatonin, no wonder the prevalence of melatonin usage skyrocketed 478% between 1999 and 2018, according to a February 2022 study published in the journal JAMA.
ICYMI, melatonin is a hormone that the pineal gland in our brain produces to help control the sleep-wake cycle. When it starts to get dark outside, melatonin production increases to act as a signal to the body that it's time to rest. It's an important part of our circadian rhythm. It also may offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may aid in controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, suggests a January 2021 review in the journal Cureus.
Still, because melatonin is a hormone, popping it in pill form can get dicey, sleep experts we spoke to earlier this year agree. Plus, it's not the only thing involved in troubled snoozing—we've rounded up 11 sneaky reasons you can't sleep, and that's just the beginning of what could be a much longer list. (Add to that any segment on the news, what kids are seeing on social media, global unrest …)
While keeping in mind that melatonin is not a guaranteed solution to sleep struggles, scientists are trying to learn more about how to naturally inspire our bodies to produce more melatonin. Considering the fact that most supplements are completely unregulated and skipping them, when unnecessary, will save you money, we'll take any natural fixes we can get.
Swedish researchers just uncovered a surprising new way to increase natural melatonin production, and you might already have it in your home as you try to reduce anxiety or boost the production of "happy" hormones like serotonin. According to a study published October 3, 2022, in the Journal of Sleep Research, using a weighted blanket appears to increase the amount of natural melatonin produced within the body.
Read on to find out why, plus the best bedtime snacks for sleep to amplify the snooze-subsidizing benefits.
What This Sleep Study Found
For this small study, researchers from Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, tapped 26 young men and women to sleep with a regular blanket or a weighted blanket that clocked in at 12% of their body weight. (BTW, the Sleep Foundation recommends opting for a blanket that's between 5% and 12% of your weight for best results and comfort.) After completing one night of one experiment style—regular versus weighted blanket—the participants flip-flopped groups and tried the other blanket option for a night.
Those who used a weighted blanket cozied up with it one hour prior to bedtime, then for the duration of sleep time, eight hours. While they were sleeping, every 20 minutes, the researchers tracked the participants' saliva concentrations of the following:
- Alpha-amylase (this digestive enzyme tends to increase in response to sleep deprivation)
After both nights of the experiment, the scientists compared the results and found no change in the amount of oxytocin or cortisol in the individuals' saliva or in the alpha-amylase, but did spot an increase in melatonin production by about 30% among those who used a weighted blanket.
The scientists believe that the deep pressure stimulation the weighted blankets supply calms sympathetic neuron stimulation. As a result, we might experience fewer middle-of-the-night wake-ups or less arousal, which would translate to higher levels of melatonin throughout the night.
Since this study was very small and short, the researchers hope to try this experiment again with a larger group to confirm the findings, especially among populations who might suffer from insomnia.
Related: 3-Day Meal Plan to Help You Sleep
The Best Bedtime Snacks with Melatonin
While more research is definitely needed to validate this benefit of a weighted blanket, if you find the practice soothing, it certainly can't hurt to snooze accordingly. In addition to staying cozy and giving your joints and muscles some comforting support, you might naturally produce more melatonin.
Speaking of that natural melatonin, since we are EatingWell, after all, we couldn't resist a chance to shout-out some of the best foods for sleep—that also contain melatonin. The field of research related to the exact melatonin content in foods is in the preliminary stages, and how much of that melatonin our bodies can use is also TBD. That said, studies prove that weaving these foods into your bedtime snack may also help add to your body's melatonin levels:
- Tart cherries or tart cherry juice
Our go-to move is a couple Cherry-Cocoa Pistachio Energy Balls with a glass of warm milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon. For even more ideas, check out 9 of the best foods for sleep, according to a dietitian.
The Bottom Line
This new study found that sleeping with a weighted blanket might be a safe, affordable and easy way to increase melatonin levels, potentially promoting better sleep. Melatonin isn't the only aspect of the sleep picture to keep in mind, though. So if you find yourself lying awake more than you'd wish, study up on 4 ways to get a better night of sleep and try this 3-day meal plan to help you sleep even better.