Weighted blankets were once tools prescribed by therapists and psychiatrists to combat autism and ADHD. Ever since, they’ve become mainstream, more and more people seem to be fascinated by this seemingly magic blanket. Let’s take a closer look at these popular blankets and learn how they work.
WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET AND WHY IS IT HEAVY?
Essentially, weighted blankets are just blankets that are heavier than standard ones. What makes them heavy are small plastic pellets distributed across the blanket. As an alternative to plastic, glass beads are also used and preferred by some since these have a fine texture like sand or sugar. Glass beads are more compact than the small plastic pellets and highly sensitive people may find them to be slightly softer. You can also come across blankets that have rice or millet in them. These various knick-knacks enable the weighted blankets to apply gentle pressure on the body of the person using it. Additionally, weighted blankets are often made of luxurious material, such as mink or fleece. It may also use a more breathable fabric like cotton. These result in weighted blankets that can weigh anywhere from 4 to 30 lbs.
HOW HEAVY SHOULD A WEIGHTED BLANKET BE?
Your own weight should help you gauge how heavy your weighted blanket should be. Some weighted blanket companies recommend adults to purchase blankets whose weight equate to 5 to 10% of their body weight. For children, blankets are prescribed to be 10 % of their body weight plus 1-2lbs. Of course, seeking guidance from your family doctor or an occupational therapist before purchasing your weighted blanket would be best since they can also factor in medical conditions you and your family may have.
HOW DO WEIGHTED BLANKETS HELP ME SLEEP BETTER?
The gentle pressure weighted blankets give provides deep touch stimulation (DTP), which stimulates the brain to discharge neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
DTP responds directly to the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. Using this, the weighted blanket can lower the heart rate and blood pressure significantly. In a study conducted in 2015, it was reported that there was a one-third decrease in stress factors through DTP. Among the participants, 63% of the group felt they had a decrease in anxiety measured by psychological awareness and 78% of the group reported that they found it much easier to relax with the weighted blanket.
Serotonin is a chemical that encourages relaxation. Children with autism along with those who have depression, anxiety, aggression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and bipolar disorder tend to be low in serotonin. This is why weighted blankets were first used by psychiatrists as a treatment for these disorders.
Serotonin also spontaneously converts to the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin, which consistently tells our body when it’s time to get ready to sleep. When serotonin and dopamine are mixed with melatonin, these chemicals naturally coax a calming effect on the human body and help relieve the nervous system. This thereby assists you in a state of restful sleep.
Similar to a soothing massage, the light touch from a weighted blanket is also believed to deliver the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin. oxytocin also shares a facilitating role in sleep. This hormone regulates our sleep-wake cycles which helps reduce blood pressure and provide a feeling of calm and relaxation. oxytocin levels go up during sleep, and typically peaking during longer periods of REM deep into a night of sleep. When oxytocin is released within the night cycle, it can induce longer sleep patterns and an overall deeper quality of sleep.
A study from the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering published in 2012, studied how adult patients’ nervous systems reacted when using weighted blankets. Positive results were observed and found physiological evidence to support the positive clinical effects of DTP (deep touch pressure) using weighted blankets for reducing anxiety.
People who suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome have also benefited from using weighted blankets at night. In their case, their nervous systems were overactive and caused feelings of itchiness or the feeling of being on “pins and needles”. Their bodies adapted to relieve them by causing them to constantly move their legs at night. This, however, also resulted in disruption of sleep and other adverse outcomes. Luckily weighted blankets saved the day by using the deep touch simulation the bring to help pacify the nervous system and allow RLS sufferers to be relieved at night, raising the longer duration of rest and sleep.
WHAT CONDITIONS SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR WHEN BUYING WEIGHTED BLANKETS?
Weighted blankets may not be for everyone. Other than the added weight, there is also the additional heat. You may not be advised to purchase a weighted blanket of your own if you have the following:
- a chronic health condition
- ongoing menopause
- circulation problems
- respiration concerns
- temperature regulation issues
Weighted blankets have long been used by children and adults alike, to encourage long periods of deep sleep and relaxation. Although initially designed as a sensory aid, weighted blankets have increased in demand as a means to help with various stress-related and sleeping issues, as well as disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or even Restless Leg Syndrome. They help people who suffer from restless and hyperactive minds by offering a simple and drug-free therapeutic measure that anybody can use anywhere. Weighted blankets are the long-sought for cures and you should definitely try them and experience the difference yourself.