Should People With Lung Disease Avoid Weighted Blankets?
Last updated: August 2022
For the last year or so, I’ve used a weighted blanket (off and on, because making such a blanket out of duct tape, Ziploc bags and rice is maybe not the best solution and sometimes they break open). I’ve always slept with lots of blankets and layers, and eventually stumbled across the concept of the weighted blanket (which, is great for not only some people with autism or anxiety, but also those of us with ADHD with some sensory processing issues, AKA me).
However, repeatedly I read the same verbatim caution from the internet, if you have respiratory or circulatory issues, you should not use a weighted blanket. This caution extends as well to those with strength issues who may become trapped under a blanket that weighs somewhere from 10-15% of their body weight.
Are weighted blankets dangerous for people with asthma?
Well, Asthma.net, guess what? I have asthma! The cautious people of the internet suggest I not use a weighted blanket. But I also have ADHD, and the people of the internet said that weighted blankets might be helpful to me. Such blankets are stated to be calming,1 increase relaxation, help people fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and experience better sleep quality as evidenced in waking up more easily, feeling more rested, and feeling more positive, in at least a third of the trial group.2 Lots of people without ADHD or autism (and so on) also experience better sleep or daytime relaxation with weighted blankets. The research is not extensive, but it does exist.
But what about this claim for those of us with lung issues? That we, too, should not try to benefit from the use of a weighted blanket? How founded are those claims?
What about those with other lung conditions?
I have not found any research that speaks specifically to using a weighted blanket for those of us with lung disease, at least nothing beyond the claims that we should not use one, which seems to be made without evidence. I tried to consider why these claims would be made and considered other phenomena that may have linked to this recommendation.
Alongside people with asthma or COPD, it is recommended those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) also not use weighted blankets. Often, OSA is associated with central (abdominal) obesity, increasing the physical work of breathing. This can also occur in asthma—often asthma is more difficult to control in people who are obese than it is in people who are not. Having extra weight on the anterior (front of the body) chest wall,3 makes the work of breathing greater as the lungs have more to push up against as they expand to take air in.
My conclusion here is that a weighted blanket simply will add to the resistance that our lungs, diaphragm, and intercostal muscles have to work against to breathe. Extra work of breathing may cause more issues with asthma (or breathing issues that are perceived to be related to asthma), thus influencing the recommendation for those of us with lung disease to not use these items.
Giving an educated “try"
You guys know by now that I throw caution to the wind. It’s why I constantly say your asthma may vary (hat tip to Bennet Dunlap of YDMV - Your Diabetes May Vary), and why the choices I make are not always the right ones and I share my adventures and misadventures so that you can use that knowledge.
It’s fair to say that I don’t make educated guesses—I make educated attempts.
My educated try is not research, but, I have not felt or experienced any difference in my own asthma at night using a weighted blanket. I feel I fall asleep faster, sleep better, however, per my SleepCycle data of a sample of 254 nights (127 with a weighted blanket and 127 without), the differences is not as striking as I feel it to be. With “0% sleep quality” nights (??) removed, my average sleep quality for the 127 nights without a weighted blanket was 74% without the weighted blanket, and 75%… so nothing statistically significant.
Should people with asthma avoid weighted blankets?
Just like everything, it’s not one-size-fits-all. I have found my 13-pound weighted blankets to be beneficial in relaxation for me, and not detrimental to my breathing. However, people with more severe asthma/lung disease, muscle weakness, or who are obese, may experience more issues with extra weight on their body, and it may not be a good idea. The best choice is to speak with your doctor, and perhaps consider using a smaller weighted blanket over your legs only to ensure breathing is not restricted.
Have you used or considered using a weighted blanket with asthma? How did using a weighted blanket impact your asthma? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?