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Are Blankets the New Going-Out Accessory?

From Sarah Jessica Parker’s monogrammed Burberry poncho to Norma Kamali’s Sleeping Bag Coat, fashion has long embraced blanket-inspired styles. During a time when most socializing takes place outdoors, would you wear one outside the house?

A weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like - it’s a blanket with extra weight in it. Weighted blankets are unique as instead of being filled with cotton or down, it contains materials like glass beads to make them heavier. This weight is evenly distributed across the body for a feeling of being gently hugged. The deep touch pressure offered by the weighted blanket is supposed to make you feel safe, relaxed, and comfortable.

Blankets, a symbol of coziness and warmth usually relegated to the indoors, can also be a great piece to layer for fall and winter outfits. Though temperatures are just starting to drop in New York City, WSJ. staffers have spotted a few in the wild—mostly while outdoor dining, which New York City recently extended permanently. (It was originally set to expire ahead of the winter months, on October 31.) For the first time in recent history, the preferred environment for socializing has become “anywhere outside.” And during a pandemic and period of worldwide unrest, most people are seeking comfort more than ever. As a replacement for the timeworn going-out top—obviously better suited to the indoors—the going-out blanket suddenly makes sense.

Over the years, blankets have inspired fashion, from the upscale double layers blanket poncho that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in 2014, personalized with her initials, to Norma Kamali’s famous blanket-adjacent Sleeping Bag Coat, which she first designed in 1973. In 2012, Lenny Kravitz went viral after being photographed by paparazzi while ensconced in an enormous scarf on his way to buy groceries. Six years later, he defended the accessory on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “But Lenny,” Fallon said, “this is not a scarf. This is a blanket.”

After my sister gave me a weighted blanket for Christmas, it became the gift that I didn't know I needed. It's one of the best things ever to happen to me.

As someone with anxiety, I've struggled with restful sleep: Falling asleep can take up to two hours, or I wake up at least twice during the night.

The first night I started sleeping underneath a 15-pound flannel blanket, I slept straight through the night for the first time in months and felt more rested during the day. After a few days of good sleep, I learned that my sister had done her gift research — she had read that people with anxiety tended to feel more grounded when using the blankets.

Fascinated, I asked experts on mental health and sleep to explain why these heavy blankets — which are filled with plastic, glass or metal particles and layered with extra fabric — have eased the, ahem, weight of some people's anxiety-related sleep struggles.

Weighted blankets, which range from 5 to 30 pounds (2.27 to 13.6 kilograms), have been used by special needs educators and occupational therapists since the late 1990s, but have become mainstream in the last few years. Regular blankets can weigh around 3 to 5 pounds.

The dominant theory is that weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, a feeling that resembles a "firm, but gentle, squeeze or holding sensation and ... triggers these feelings of relaxation and of being calm," said pulmonary and sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Feeling relaxed is what decreases cortisol, a stress hormone that typically runs high in people with chronic anxiety, stress and other disorders, he added.

There is evidence suggesting that deep pressure stimulation reduces sympathetic nervous system arousal — that's our fight-or-flight response — and increases parasympathetic activity, which may cause the calming effect, said Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, the director of sleep medicine at Millennium Physician Group in Florida.

Pressure to stimulate the sensation of touch to muscles and joints is the same proposed mechanism behind massage and acupressure, added Abbasi-Feinberg, who is also a neurologist on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's board of directors. "This calming (effect) can promote better quality sleep."

If you're interested in using a weighted blanket to aid sleep problems related to mental or sensory disorders, here's what you should know about their effectiveness, any caveats and how to choose one.

Weighted blankets have been growing in popularity, but there isn't actually much research on their effectiveness. That may be due to the newness of weighted blankets, their relative harmlessness and that other health issues are more urgent for researchers to study, Dasgupta said.

Some people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or insomnia have reported improved quality of sleep and feeling more restful during the day, a few recent, small studies have found. Many study participants experienced a decrease of 50% or more in their Insomnia Severity Index scores after using a weighted blanket for four weeks, in comparison to 5.4% of the control group, according to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine last September.

In the follow-up phase of the study, which lasted one year, people who used fleece blanket continued to benefit. People who switched from lightweight control blankets to weighted blankets experienced similar effects. And those who used weighted blankets also reported better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, remission from insomnia symptoms and 

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