Before having children, I never knew what sleep deprivation could do to someone.
When my first baby was born in 2013, I was thrown into the deep end of sleepless nights.
The immense torture of wanting to sleep so desperately, but then – even when the baby was sleeping soundly – being unable to relax because I was constantly worrying about her, was like nothing I’ve experienced before (or since). It made me value a good night’s sleep – at that time in my life, nothing was better (and rarer) than waking up well-rested.
Now my kids are mostly sleeping through the night, but during calving season my husband and I are like newborn parents again: constantly checking the calf-cam, being woken up by the milk truck and pulling on the wellies at ungodly hours to aid with difficult births. I have always been interested in the idea of a weighted blanket, but haven’t yet made the purchase – after all, they are expensive and I’m not sure they some in superking sizes!
In recent years, though, weighted blankets have become popular among those living with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism, restless leg syndrome, stress, and insomnia. The blankets generally weigh up to 20kg. The extra pressure is said to induce relaxation by simulating being held. They are meant to provide comfort and security, ease stress, soothe anxiety and calm your nervous system.
In 2016, when psychology professional Emer Flannery worked night shifts with homeless services in Dublin, she experienced a lot of disrupted sleep. Previously, she worked in Saudi Arabia as a behavioural therapist for autistic children and in Australia, helping people suffering from anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia. When she started experiencing insomnia herself, she suddenly understood how crucial sleep is to a properly functioning system.
“[At the time] I worked night shifts, day shifts, every shift you can think of,” she says. “My schedule was all over the place. I would twist and turn all night, and when I went to bed, I was thinking about my clients. I wasn’t able to have a deep sleep.”
Originally from Belmullet, Co Mayo, Emer grew up in a creative household. Her mother, Maureen, is a gifted sewer and dress maker. It was her talent which inspired Emer to develop her line of Kocoono weighted sleep accessories.
From prototype to crowd funding
In 2011, Emer had actually created a prototype weighted blanket. This blanket was made for a little girl with autism who lived locally. After making this first blanket, Emer felt there could be a business in it but also felt she was too young and needed to travel and experience life before committing to a start-up.
“I was a bit young so I travelled for a few years,” she says. “When I made the first Kocoono blanket, it was just for myself and it wasn’t that nice – no filling, just weights – and it felt like a bag of stones!”
From there, Emer developed the line of handmade weighted blankets and accessories. She created a Kickstarter campaign and raised four times the amount of money stated in her goal, which was encouraging. Again, her mother’s skill in sewing was instrumental in helping her develop her product line.
How they’re made
Her blankets use silicon balls filled with glass beads to provide the weight. The blankets themselves are made within Europe, using good-quality cotton. Emer says making the blankets is quite labour intensive. You can customise the weight in the blanket by adding or removing bands of weights and the blankets also have neck cut-outs so the weight can be added to the right places.
“Maybe you just want the weight on your legs,” she says. “You can customise a Kocoono to put the weight where you need it most. You can also remove the weights and put them in the freezer, which has been useful for women going through menopause.”
Anyone can benefit
While weighted blankets can help those with health issues to have better quality sleep, Emer says you don’t need to have a specific medical problem to benefit. With so much focus on diet and exercise to live a healthy life, she says we still hear very little about how important adequate sleep is for these things, as well.
“Most of our clients work stressful jobs and just need it to wind down and get a more refreshed sleep,” she says. “We’re living in a stressful time, with COVID and the invasion of Ukraine. Add that in with the amount of tech we use – we’re over stimulated. It can be difficult to switch off at night time.”
The Luxe Kocoono customisable blanket, which is described in this article, is priced at €279. Kocoono also make a basic version, priced at €190. | kocoono.com
A bedtime balm
Try Lush’s Sleepy Body Lotion (starting at €13) for a relaxing bedtime routine
Blissy Sleep Masks (€34.95) are satin, have a cooling effect and are very effective at blocking out light.
Wake Up Light Alarm Clock
This alarm clock is made specifically for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Thirty minutes before the alarm goes off, it starts giving off a natural light which mimics the sunrise. These can be pricey (€94.99 from Boots), but have gotten good reviews.
Sleep Aid Devices
Sleep aid devices, like the Dodow (€49.50), aim to synchronise your breathing with calming blue light projections and claim to help you get to sleep in as little as eight minutes. | dodow.ie.