How do Weighted Blankets work?
There’s a reason why receiving a hug feels so good. Hugs lower your blood pressure, and they lower your cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This helps reduce anxiety and enables a higher quality of sleep. Unfortunately, hugs tend to be short-lived. Fortunately, weighted blankets provide a hug-like sensation that can go on for as long as you like.
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets have been used for many years as therapeutic tools for children. They were used to treat children with severe anxiety, autism, and PTSD. They were introduced to the consumer market in 2017 when the “Gravity Blanket” launched on Kickstarter.
Weighted blankets contain balls, pellets, or chains that give the blanket heft. They generally consist of several layers. The interior layer usually consists of the weighted material sewn into pockets with cotton filling for comfort. The exterior layer is often a soft or cooling cover that makes the blanket look and feel like a regular duvet. Some weighted blankets are one piece, while others have a separate outer cover. In general, the weighted part is not machine washable, but the removable duvet usually is.
Both adults and children can use these duvets. They are not recommended for infants. They are generally available in weights ranging from 5 to 35 pounds. Manufacturers recommend selecting a weight that is 10 percent of a user’s body.
In general, weighted comforters exist for individual use. It’s recommended that users select a size that isn’t much larger than the width of their bodies. A person must be able to get out from underneath the duvet quickly. Furthermore, if it drapes too much over a person, the weight will cause the blanket to slip off a person while they sleep.
Weighted comforters range in price from $130 to $300; they come in a variety of styles, some of which provide additional benefits such as keeping a person cool while they sleep.
How Do Weighted Blankets Work
How weighted blankets work is relatively straightforward. The weight of the blanket puts pressure on the body, reproducing the same anxiety-reducing and sleep enabling effects as getting a hug. In therapeutic circles, they call this sensation, deep pressure stimulation (DPS). DPS relaxes the nervous system, increasing a person’s melatonin and serotonin levels and decreasing their cortisol levels.
Melatonin and serotonin are hormones that regulate things like mood, appetite, and sleep. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it’s responsible for the communication between nerve cells, as well as producing responses. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter-like substance. It regulates a person’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is responsible for controlling when the body releases hormones, the body’s temperature, and a person’s sleeping patterns. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It functions with certain parts of the brain to control motivation, fear, and mood. Cortisol causes a person’s heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Having some amount of cortisol is normal, but when you have too much, it’s a result of chronic stress. Therefore increasing serotonin and melatonin and decreasing cortisol results in a feeling of calmness and peace, allowing for a deeper, more restful sleep and a better overall mood.
Furthermore, in 2015, a study in the Journal of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health looked at the effect of DPS from a weighted blanket. Their results showed that 63 percent of their participants felt a decrease in anxiety, while 78 percent stated that they preferred to use a weighted blanket over other methods to feel calmer.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets help with the following issues:
- Improving sleep and reducing insomnia
- Fighting stress
- Relieving symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
- Reducing fibromyalgia pain
- Helping with Sensory Processing Disorder
- Increasing focus for people with ADHD and Autism
- Improving feelings of depression
- Assisting with symptoms of PTSD
- Decreasing stress and anxiety in dogs
How A Weighted Blanket Helps with Sleep
Anyone can benefit from a weighted blanket. However, they are especially useful for people with sleep issues. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for a person’s overall wellbeing. Poor sleep alters the regular functioning of the brain, affecting a person’s attention span and disrupting a person’s ability to focus on sensory input. A lack of sleep can also have serious physical consequences and often plays a role in tragic accidents involving cars, ships, trains, and airplanes. If a person continually fails to achieve sufficient sleep, they will accrue what’s known as sleep debt. This means that they will have to catch up on the extra rest they missed by adding more hours of sleep to their nightly regime. A weighted blanket can help.
A weighted blanket helps with sleep by helping a person fall asleep and stay asleep through the continued application of gentle pressure. A study in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering stated that a weighted blanket “gives subjects the feelings of safety, relaxation, and comfort.” Other studies that examined the use of these duvets discovered similar results.
Additionally, weighted comforters alleviate other insomnia inducing ailments such as Restless Leg Syndrome and fibromyalgia pain. Restless Leg Syndrome is a tingling sensation in the legs that most often happens at night. Putting pressure on the legs helps reduce these feelings. The same is true for pain from fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia causes chronic, idiopathic pain that can keep a person awake at night. Many patients have reported that a weighted duvet helps alleviate their discomfort.
Fatigue is also a well-known trigger for panic attacks. Consequently, if a person suffers from anxiety, then using a weighted blanket to get a good night’s sleep will be beneficial. Furthermore, the duvet’s deep pressure dampens a person’s fight-or-flight response, which encourages relaxation.
People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also have trouble falling and staying asleep. This is because they struggle with handling persistent and obsessive thoughts and behavior. Additionally, sufferers of OCD have low levels of serotonin, which also contributes to their inability to fall asleep. They, therefore, benefit from the use of a weighted duvet as the pressure increases the production of melatonin and serotonin.
How Weighted Blankets Increase Focus
People who have ADHD have trouble focusing. This is thought to be because their brains are naturally low on dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine and norepinephrine are what control brain arousal and attention levels. Most people can “buckle down” and force themselves to focus, but this is not the case for people with ADHD, no matter how much they try.
People with autism can also have trouble paying attention. This is usually due to their being distracted by the things around them. People with autism are less able to block out environmental distractions. Teachers and occupational therapists have used weighted vests and lap pads for many years to help kids feel less anxious and more focused. The same effects are produced when using a weighted comforter. As a result, they help people with autism and ADHD focus and relax.
Furthermore, weighted duvets help people with Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). People with SPD have trouble processing and acting on the information they receive from their five senses. Subsequently, these people experience anxiety attacks and struggle to perform everyday tasks. Weighted blankets provide sensory input, which puts the autonomic nervous system into “rest” mode. In “rest” mode, the symptoms of anxiety, such as a fast heart rate and breathing, are reduced.
How Weighted Blankets Improve Mood
While it’s normal to feel sad occasionally, persistent sadness is usually a sign of depression. There is no one cause for depression, but it’s often attributed to the level of serotonin in a person’s brain. Serotonin is called the happy chemical because it plays a central role in a person’s happiness and wellbeing. It’s believed that serotonin affects emotions, appetite, social behavior, and cognitive and autonomic functions. Weighted blankets can help improve depression or a low mood in two ways. It can provide comfort, like the feeling of being hugged, and as a result of the blanket’s deep pressure, it can increase the release of serotonin.
In a study in the Journal of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, researchers found that these blankets lower pulse rates and reduce blood pressure, which 63 percent of study participants said made them feel less anxious. As a result, moods improved, and better sleep was achieved.
How Weighted Blankets Help Dogs with Stress and Anxiety
Just as humans benefit from weighted blankets, dogs can benefit too. Dogs struggle with loud noises and issues like separation anxiety. The pressure of a weighted blanket provides comfort to stressed animals. It raises their levels of serotonin and melatonin and decreases their cortisol levels.
While many of the issues that weighted blankets address can be solved by other means, they have the advantage of being portable, affordable, and non-medicinal. The main benefit of a weighted comforter is its ability to simulate the feeling of being hugged. As we have seen, this benefit is advantageous in alleviating many issues, especially trouble sleeping, anxiety, and stress.