A cozy blanket is the ideal sleep
aid for a frosty winter's night. The right blanket can warm your bones and swaddle you in security—but the wrong one can sabotage your snoozing. I asked three experts for advice on picking the perfect blanket for a good night's sleep. Here's a warm, fuzzy wrap-up of what they told me.
When it comes to sleep temperature, experts recommend following the Goldilocks principle: not too cold, not too hot, but just right. "People seem to sleep best at temperatures between 62 and 70 degrees F," says Alice Hoagland, PhD, director of Insomnia Services at the Unity Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, N.Y. When the surrounding temperature falls too low, it can rouse you from sleep. A good blanket helps chase the chill away.
At the other extreme, overheating yourself can disrupt your sleep as well. "Core body temperature typically drops during the first four hours of sleep," says Dr. Hoagland. This decline in body temperature helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, and cycle appropriately through the nightly sleep stages. Anything that interferes with the dip in body temperature can disturb your slumber.
- A light- to medium-warmth blanket coupled with a 60-something setting on the room thermostat can help you find your comfort zone. Ultra-warm blankets—such as some made of wool, cashmere, or polar fleece—may get too hot. Likewise, an electric blanket cranked up to high may cause you to become overheated.
"A blanket should be non-allergenic for sensitive folks," says Tracey Marks, MD, an Atlanta psychiatrist and author of Master Your Sleep. Dust mites, a common allergy and asthma trigger, thrive in blankets and other bedding. When the tiny bugs set off your symptoms, sneezing and wheezing may keep you up at night.
- If you're allergy-prone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend avoiding down-filled comforters. Wash other blankets once a week in hot (130 degrees F) water and dry in a hot dryer to kill dust mites.
"In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control," says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. These special blankets are filled with weighted pellets, which are sewn into compartments to keep them evenly distributed. Weighted blankets are also sometimes marketed for general use as an aid to sleep and relaxation.
"These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body," Moore says. "Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe." Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer.
- If you want to try this type of blanket, the best weight depends on your body size and personal preference. However, 15 to 30 pounds is typical for adults. "Input from a doctor or occupational therapist is advised for elderly individuals and anyone with a medical condition," Moore says. She adds that weighted blankets are not recommended for people with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problems or those recovering from surgery.
Choose a blanket fabric that's "easy on the skin," says Dr. Marks. Some people like a fuzzy blanket, and others prefer a smoother texture. But in either case, a gentle fabric that babies your skin can help soothe you to sleep. In contrast, a rougher fabric, such as wool, can irritate your skin and cause itching that keeps you awake.
- Let tactile preference be your guide. One fabric to consider is cotton, which is both soft and breathable—two qualities that enhance comfort.
Security blankets aren't just for toddlers. "Adults can also have serious preferences for a particular blanket," says Dr. Hoagland. "Regularly using a favorite blanket for sleep can help to develop a conditioned response so that sleep onset is quicker." In fact, many sleep centers ask patients to bring their own blanket and pillow from home, which helps them fall asleep more easily.
- Once you find a blanket you like, use it every night. If you have trouble sleeping when away from home, consider taking the blanket with you.
Linda Wasmer Andrews recently wrote here about how gratitude promotes sound sleep. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.