Over the last few years, weighted blankets have become a popular and mainstream sleep and health aid, and for good reason. They’re not just a fad. They actually work! Weighted blankets have been found to be beneficial in easing the symptoms of a variety of health issues, from insomnia to autism. In this article, we’ll go over how weighted blankets work and what they help with.
How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
As the name suggests, these blankets weigh more than the average blanket, typically filled with heavier materials like plastic balls or pellets. They can weigh anywhere from 4 to 25 pounds, but if you’re considering purchasing one, experts suggest getting one that is around 10 percent of your body weight so that it isn’t too heavy.
The added pressure caused by the blanket’s heaviness mimics what’s called deep pressure stimulation. This is a therapeutic technique that involves applying gentle pressure over the body and is usually performed through massage, a hug, or other touch pressure. The applied weight relaxes the nervous system to relieve pain, anxiety, and restlessness and increase happiness and focus.
Weighted blankets can be an easy, portable way to receive these same benefits independently and for longer periods of time.
What Can Weighted Blankets Help With?
With that said, almost anyone can benefit from this added pressure. Weighted blankets and deep pressure therapy provide necessary physical and mental relief and are a viable option for easing the symptoms of a range of issues. Below are just a few of the most notable health and wellness issues weighted blankets can help with.
Anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and PTSD regularly cause the body to become alert and respond as though you’re in danger. You become nervous, and your heart rate and breathing may quicken or you might begin to tremble. Weighted blankets can provide a safe alternative to medication to soothe these symptoms.
The deep pressure stimulation offered by weighted blankets can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the body, slows your heart rate, and releases endorphins to make you feel good. This calming effect can also help those who may be experiencing symptoms at night fall asleep easier and feel more rested in the morning. This in turn reduces fatigue, which can trigger or make anxiety worse, during the day.
A study done in 2015 found that a 30-pound weighted blanket was a safe and effective treatment for reducing anxiety, with 60% of the 30 participants indicating a “significant reduction in anxiety.” In another study, 63% of 32 participants reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket.
It’s not just chronic anxiety that weighted blankets can help. Those feeling momentary stress can also use a weighted blanket to help calm them and combat that stress. Weighted blankets mimic the feeling of being hugged by a loved one, which can calm and comfort you. The pressure of the blanket’s weight can also cause you to focus more on the physical sensation and serve as a distraction from any racing thoughts.
Insomnia and Other Sleep Issues
Weighted blankets can also help with sleep disorders such as insomnia, which keep you from getting a satisfying night of sleep. Similarly to anxiety, which can cause insomnia, the deep pressure stimulation caused by the added weight can relax the nervous system and calm you to help you fall and stay asleep.
A study done in 2015 found that of 31 participants with chronic insomnia, 80% said they liked the weighted blanket. With the weighted blanket, they found it easier to fall asleep, slept longer and spent less time awake throughout the night.
Weighted blankets can also help ease the symptoms of restless leg syndrome, which tend to be more intense at night and interfere with sleep. The deep pressure weighted blankets provide can relax the legs and provide you with the relief you crave so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
Fibromyalgia and Other Pain Conditions
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that causes musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. While medication can be used to treat fibromyalgia, the side effects can often be as bad as the condition itself, and many people seek drug-free alternatives. Weighted blankets can be a safe, effective option.
Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions are often cited as being connected to low levels of serotonin. The deep pressure applied to the body by weighted blankets grounds the body and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which can reduce cortisol levels and causes the brain to release serotonin and dopamine. This can help ease some of the pain and help those with fibromyalgia fall asleep.
ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a mental health condition that can cause impulsivity, restlessness and issues focusing and concentrating on tasks. Similarly to fibromyalgia, it has been found that those with ADHD have low levels of serotonin.
Weighted blankets and deep pressure stimulation can relax the nervous system and boost serotonin levels to soothe those with ADHD and help them concentrate. Children with ADHD may benefit from a smaller weighted blanket that they can keep in their lap at school to help them stay relaxed and focused during class.
While not many studies have been done on the effects of weighted blankets in particular on those with ADHD, there have been studies on the effects of deep pressure stimulation from aids like weighted vests. One study published in 2014, for example, found that wearing weighted vests improved attention, impulse control, and on-task behavior in children with ADHD.
Weighted blankets and deep pressure therapy can also be used to help soothe a range of symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Some of these treatable symptoms include trouble sleeping, restlessness, and anxiety.
The sympathetic nervous system, which makes you alert, is often triggered in those with autism spectrum disorder, which is what causes these symptoms to occur. As said in previous sections, a weighted blanket can relax the nervous system and aid in the release of serotonin and dopamine to ease these symptoms.
Weighted blankets’ ability to mimic touch can also be helpful in easing these symptoms. It has been found that individuals with autism spectrum disorder respond well to and can be soothed by gentle touch.
There haven’t been many significant science-based results regarding the benefits of weighted blankets for those with autism. However, weighted blankets are often used by occupational therapists in the autism community, and individuals with autism and parents of children with autism have subjectively found them to be beneficial.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Those with sensory processing disorder have trouble processing all of the information they receive through the senses, making them hypersensitive to stimuli like touch, sound, and sight. This can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety, especially in situations where there may be a lot of stimuli.
Using weighted blankets in situations like these can help to relax the nervous system to ease some of the anxiety. The deep pressure stimulation can also be a gentle way to help desensitize those who are hypersensitive to touch.
As you can see, weighted blankets can be helpful in treating many health conditions, especially those involving symptoms of restlessness, anxiety, or pain. Whether you’re experiencing minor stress or issues sleeping or have one of the health issues listed, a weighted blanket may just be what you need to get the relief you desire.