The economic story line in the weighted blanket’s rise to mass-market popularity is, all told, an unremarkable one, and these small-business owners know it: That a company with ample resources (and savvy branding strategies) might shift profit away from its rivals with less and flood the market with even more competition should surprise nobody.
But the precise moment of the Gravity Blanket’s arrival may have also had something to do with its success. Mike Grillo, the co-founder of the Gravity Blanket, told Time that while he was aware that he didn’t invent the weighted blanket, he credited his product’s success to its look and feel (more luxurious than some of its predecessors, Time explained) and to good timing. “The 2016 election was still fresh in people’s minds,” he told the magazine. People were anxious and looking for relief.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon to attribute the new popularity of weighted blankets to a rise in feelings of stress and worry in the United States. In early 2018, Jia Tolentino wrote in a New Yorker essay titled “The Seductive Confinement of a Weighted Blanket in an Anxious Time” that “it struck me as not coincidental that Gravity’s Kickstarter success arrived deep into a period when many Americans were beginning their e-mails with reflexive, panicked condolences about the news.”
When I spoke to Grillo for this story, he characterized the surging popularity of weighted blankets as just one piece of the recent cultural obsession with sleep and its role in a wholesome, healthy lifestyle. At Futurism, he says, “a lot of the stuff the readers were gravitating toward were like the science of sleep and the science of meditation and mindfulness. So we started thinking of things we could build in that space.”
Grillo says he was aware that weighted blankets had been popular tools in populations with specialized needs. If it helps these populations, he figured, maybe it can help the rest of us, too. The research they drew on, he says, “was conducted in these smaller patient populations—kids with autism, adults with PTSD, [people] in psychiatric hospitals going through very acute bouts of anxiety or psychosis.” But while he likes to emphasize that there’s science to support the benefits of weighted blankets, the company also wanted to make a few changes from the existing models (a few of which it bought and tested, and found to be “really dope”) to appeal to a broader customer base: “We don’t want to make it feel too clinical for our customer.”
There are moments, though, when the mass-market weighted blanket seems to emphasize its clinical pedigree. While the most popular way for newer manufacturers to describe the appeal of their product is something along the lines of “It feels like getting a hug,” the more sciencey-sounding benefits are a close second: The Kickstarter campaign for the Reviv Blanket explains to readers that that feeling of being hugged “increases serotonin and melatonin, while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.” Baloo Living writes on its website that “the deep pressure touch soothes the nervous system, alleviates stress and anxiety, and increases serotonin production.” Other brands, meanwhile, like to claim that their products can flat-out “reduce anxiety,” as the Amazon-selling brand YnM does in a graphic.