Sleep and I have an uneasy relationship. Each morning, in the small hours, a silent but insistent alarm clock goes off in my head and I’m awake, restless and alert.
I haven’t slept soundly since the menopause a decade ago, but when I turned 60 — and the hot flushes subsided — I thought there would be an improvement. But the problem persisted; intractable, debilitating.
I try to still my racing mind: I meditate, listen to music, read; count sheep. The windows are heavily curtained. My sheets are Egyptian cotton, my pillows, scented with lavender, are Hungarian goose down. I have a huge bed and a duvet as light as air. The window is open a crack.
All the conditions are propitious. Sleep should envelop me, but it eludes me.
Frances Hardy (pictured) tested out a selection of the latest weighted blankets which promote a deeper and more relaxed sleep
I’ve also played hypnosis tapes and taken HRT, which helped. But my GP was loath to let me stay on it indefinitely so the respite was temporary. I don’t want to take sleeping pills — the fear of becoming dependent is too strong — and over-the-counter remedies don’t fix a thing.
I yearn for seven or eight hours of deep, restorative sleep. So when I heard about weighted blankets – the latest weapon in the insomniac’s armoury, which also claim to help anxiety and restlessness — although sceptical, I was eager to try them.
The promises they make are enticing: they are said to promote deeper sleep by encouraging relaxation, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol and to increase sleep-inducing serotonin and melatonin levels through deep pressure stimulation. Made from a layer of glass beads stitched into a grid or a pocket and enveloped in a snug, removable and washable cover, the blankets are cosy and warm.
So would I sleep better simply by swapping my duvet for a weighted blanket? It seemed like an impossible dream. But I tried six different products — with some surprising results . . .
SOMMIO Double Prime blanket in plush cover, £219.99, sommio.co.uk. Weight: 6kg
Frances says she awoke feeling more rested after a night using SOMMIO Double Prime blanket (pictured), despite sleeping for her usual duration
This was the first blanket I tried, and the most expensive.
To begin with, although I’d followed the maker’s recommendation and chosen one that was roughly a tenth of my body weight, it felt disconcertingly heavy after my down duvet — like sleeping under a beanbag.
And when you’re used to crisp cotton against your skin, swapping it for a velvety nap seems alien. (Also, I like to be able to hot-wash my bedding, not coax it through a delicates cycle.)
Still alert, hot and restless at 3.15am I wondered if I would ever drop off. But I did, and managed five hours of uninterrupted sleep. In terms of hours, I slept no longer than usual. However, I woke feeling more rested, as if I’d slept deeply and calmly, cocooned in my blanket.
Actually, I felt alert enough all day to forgo my frequent 20-minute afternoon snooze.
Verdict: A short but sweet sleep.6/10
LIKE A BABY
SNUZI LIFE Premium weighted blanket, £138, snuzi.co.uk. Weight: 5.5 kg
Frances was most impressed with SNUZI LIFE Premium weighted blanket (pictured) which helped her to sleep blissfully for eight hours
Accustomed by now to the heft of the blanket, this slightly lighter version felt ideal. I snuggled down under its washable mink-grey lining — as soft and cosseting as cashmere — and after a brief spell of wakefulness at around midnight, slept blissfully until 7.30am, for a total of eight hours.
I can’t recall sleeping so solidly since I was a child, swaddled under layers of thick woollen blankets, an eiderdown and counterpane — but perhaps that’s the point.
The effect of the weighted blanket is similar to that of the old-fashioned bedding we used before duvets became de rigueur and has a comparable calming and comforting effect.
All day, I felt as if I was walking on air. I was incredulous and delighted. I’ll definitely buy this and use it every night.
Verdict: Best night’s sleep in decades. 10/10
SENSORY OWL weighted blanket, £105.60 (inc postage) sensoryowl.co.uk. Weight: 6kg
Frances says SENSORY OWL weighted blanket (pictured) could be useful for bringing on holiday but she only achieved four hours sleep with it
Bright and floral-patterned, this was the prettiest of all the blankets. Despite its weight, it felt the flimsiest, perhaps because its cover is cotton rather than plush. I woke after four hours’ sleep, feeling chilly and couldn’t drop off again.
But the benefit of this blanket is it’s much less unwieldy and more portable than the others, so you could, at a pinch, pack it for a holiday. Or snuggle down in front of the fire wrapped in it for a cosy afternoon nap — which I did.
Verdict: Fine for warmer nights. 5/10
CLOSE AND PERSONAL
ROCABI Boyfriend Blanket, £139, rocabi.com. Weight: 6.8kg
Frances achieved over seven hours sleep using the ROCABI Boyfriend Blanket (pictured)
The gentle pressure this blanket exerts on your body is supposed to mimic a partner’s hug, releasing oxytocin which slows the heart and promotes relaxation.
The combined weight and furry lining sent me into a deep, dreamless sleep instantaneously. I woke after four hours feeling hot, fearing I’d be jolted into wakefulness for the rest of the night, but I quickly dropped off again, sleeping for seven-and-a-half glorious hours and waking refreshed.
Verdict: Snug as a bug in a rug. 9/10
SUMO SLEEP, weighted blanket, £159, sumosleep.co.uk. Weight: 7kg
Frances says SUMO SLEEP, weighted blanket (pictured) was the heaviest she tested but it kept her warm and helped to achieve over seven hours sleep
A hefty blanket — the heaviest I test — encased in a soft micro-fibre outer duvet cover, this took some effort to move onto the bed, but once snuggled underneath I succumbed to its embrace and fell asleep within minutes.
The joy of this blanket is that I slept deeply, cocooned in my own cosy micro-environment — while when I share a duvet with my partner, his restlessness wakes me. Although I woke after six hours and read, within 20 minutes I was luxuriating in the warmth and weight of the blanket and ready to nod off again.
Verdict: A deep, restorative sleep of seven-and-a-half hours – and I didn’t stir, even when my partner got up in the morning.8/10
SENSORY DIRECT weighted blanket, £135.95, sensorydirect.com. Weight: 4.5kg
Frances had eight hours sleep using the SENSORY DIRECT weighted blanket (pictured)
Designed to be used on top of your usual bedding, this navy cotton blanket is the most utilitarian-looking of those I tested.
Originally developed by the parents of an autistic child to calm him and reduce anxiety, restless sleepers like me are also now enjoying the benefits.
Extra weight can be added to the blanket’s 20 individual pockets if wanted — I used this on top of a thin duvet and, although it wasn’t as cosy as being enveloped by a blanket alone, I fell asleep swiftly at 11.30pm.
However, by 4am I was awake. I read for an hour and a half until my eyes were heavy, and decided to turn off my alarm and see when I woke naturally. Result? I slept until 9am!
Verdict: Marathon — if interrupted — eight hours sleep. 7/10