We hear a lot about weighted blankets and their benefits in terms of sleep and wellbeing. So, are they worth it?
Below we look at how weighted blankets work, what they do and who can benefit from them.
How Does a Weighted Blanket Work?
Weighted blankets use deep pressure stimulation (DPS), which helps calm the nervous system. The applied pressure almost feels like someone hugging you as you sleep, providing a sense of safety and security. Deep pressure therapy has been around for many years and was initially used to treat conditions such as anxiety in children and older adults. This technique was first discovered by Temple Grandin and was used to help ease tension in autistic children. Weighted blankets use this technique by applying gentle pressure on the body without causing one to feel confined or restricted.
According to research, the gentle pressure the weighted blankets provides helps the body produce more oxytocin, the hormone responsible for calming down the nervous system, among other functions. Commonly known as ‘the hug machine,’ weighted blankets have helped solve anxiety issues, especially with younger autistic children and senior adults. Patients that use weighted blankets reportedly have higher levels of serotonin and dopamine in their blood system than those that don’t. Dopamine and serotonin are ‘feel-good’ hormones that boost calmness, happiness, and a sense of security and come in handy when in stressful conditions. Many researchers believe weighted blankets are the solution to improving symptoms of sensory processing disorder, autism, and depression.
- Helps The Body Release More Oxytocin
Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for triggering a sense of calmness and ease. It helps the body relax and calm down by slowing one’s heart rate and blood pressure, making it possible to combat anxiety and sometimes sleeplessness. A weighted blanket helps trigger an increased release of oxytocin in the system, providing more than just warmth and a sense of security.
- Promotes The Release Of Serotonin And Dopamine
These blankets are famous for providing gentle deep pressure around your body, simulating a loving hug. According to research, the deep gentle pressure on your body triggers increased production of dopamine and serotonin. These two hormones are crucial in calming the nervous system, hence suitable for combating stress, depression, and anxiety. The deep touch pressure stimulation has an almost similar effect as a nice hug when one is stressed or anxious.
- Lowers Cortisol Levels
The increased production of dopamine and serotonin also helps keep cortisol levels minimal. Cortisol, also known as a stress hormone, is responsible for increased heart rate and blood pressure. Weighted blankets thus help the body keep cortisol levels low, which improves anxiety symptoms and promotes sleep.
- Stimulates Increased Production Of Melatonin
Melatonin is a by-product of serotonin and is responsible for promoting sleep and regulating the circadian rhythm. The soothing and calming embrace of weighted blankets tricks the body into producing more serotonin and melatonin, making it easier for a previously tense or anxious patient to sleep.
- Helps Fight Insomnia
Insomnia is one of the most common conditions today. It manifests in a variety of symptoms, ranging from trouble getting sleep, inability to stay asleep, or even waking up earlier than you should. Studies show that weighted blankets may help combat symptoms of insomnia, enabling one to enjoy good, restful sleep at night.
According to a study published in the Sleep Medicine and Disorders Journal in 2015, researchers studied a group of 31 adults, all of who has chronic insomnia. The researchers monitored the patient’s sleep quality with the standard beddings for one week, then gave them weighted blankets to use for the following 2 weeks. They were then allowed to sleep with their regular blankets in the fourth week. Data collected during this trial indicated that all participants slept better and preferred weighted blankets to regular ones. The participants reportedly slept for longer within the two weeks of using weighted blankets and had fewer episodes of restlessness in their sleep. They also woke up refreshed and more energetic, better than with regular blankets.
The study showed that the participants had calmer nights and slept soundly with weighted blankets. The researchers thus concluded that weighted blankets helped enhance relaxation, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved sleep for the participants. You might thus want to try weighted blankets if you have been struggling with insomnia and poor-quality sleep.
- Helps Reduce Restlessness And Anxiety
Restlessness and anxiety are some of the leading causes of sleeplessness and insomnia. Weighted blankets are known to help calm the nervous system down, making it possible to improve symptoms of anxiety. These blankets also come in handy, especially for individuals showing signs of ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder). The blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, which helps combat most symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults.
In a study conducted on 42 children, 21 with symptoms of ADHD and the other 21 without, their sleep patterns were monitored and tested for 4 weeks, alongside parent diaries. The children used weighted blankets in the first 2 weeks, then another 2 weeks with regular blankets. The kids with ADHD slept easily and soundly during the first two weeks (with weighted blankets) and had fewer sleep disruptions. According to the study, the kids with symptoms of ADHD slept even better than those without the condition.
- Improves Focus In The Classroom
Autistic and kids with sensory processing disorders find going to school quite challenging. The intense colors in hallways, overwhelming noise, and other triggers can be upsetting and make it harder for them to focus in class. Occupational therapists and doctors recommend weighted lap pads and vests for these kids for a good reason. The weighted vests, for example, provide firm yet gentle touch for the kids, giving them a sense of assurance and safety. This helps relieve anxiety and allows them to focus well in class. Weighted blankets can also help them sleep better at night.
- Improves Symptoms Of Restless Leg Syndrome
Although most of us look forward to a good night’s sleep every day, nighttime presents a whole new challenge for individuals with restless leg syndrome. The tingling becomes more pronounced at night, making it almost impossible to sleep soundly. Although compression socks sometimes do the trick, they can become uncomfortable after some time. It is even worse if one has arthritis. Weighted blankets help eliminate all this while allowing you to sleep barefoot and still sleep well.
- Eases Painful Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is characterized by debilitating pain and is quite common in women. Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia include chronic ligament, muscle, and tendon pains, multiple tender points, and general fatigue. Chronic fatigue and aching muscles make even the simplest activities and chores challenging, a reason most people will live on medication. Weighted blankets provide a firm and assured touch to the skin, which may help reduce pressure and anxiety, enabling one to get along well.
Several studies have linked low serotonin levels with fibromyalgia. As mentioned earlier, weighted blankets help promote increased production of serotonin. It could thus come in handy in managing symptoms of fibromyalgia and related conditions.
- Ease Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis
The firm yet gentle touch provided by weighted blankets may provide relief from most symptoms of osteoarthritis. The strong, gentle pressure improves sleep and goes a long way in reducing anxiety and promoting calmness. Although additional research is needed to ascertain how effective weighted blankets are in relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis, researchers believe these blankets work almost like massage therapy. The deep pressure helps reduce knee pains, and triggers increased blood flow to the affected regions.
- Fight Anxiety In Pets
Canines are sensitive to loud sounds and noises. Even a single crack of the fireworks can send pooches quivering in their preferred hideouts. This can sometimes last a few hours before he/she can come out of hiding. Pets are easily stressed out, a reason you should look for ways to help them calm down. Weighted blankets have proven to be helpful for humans and pets included. You can thus use your weighted blanket to help soothe him or her, helping them relax faster than they would in the hideout.
- Helps Lift Moods
Lack of sleep can easily cause one to be easily irritable and moody. Low levels of serotonin and other mood-boosting chemicals may be to blame for this as well. While a smooth massage might help, a weighted blanket can work wonders on your mood, especially serotonin levels. The right hug provided by the weighted blanket enables your body to produce these mood-boosters in abundance, enabling you to wake up rejuvenated and happier.
- Promotes Calmness
Today’s fast-paced world can take a toll on your life and health in general. It is easy for one to be overwhelmed by responsibilities and slowly slide into depression. Learning to keep stress and depression in check is the key to survival in these tough times. What better way to fight depression at the end of the day than wrap yourself in a weighted blanket. Whatever eventualities you had during the day will slowly fade away at the touch of the blanket. The blanket’s firm ‘embrace’ helps induce the release of hormones that help keep stress at bay.
- Ease Travel Anxiety
The confined spaces of an airplane or car can easily make some of us anxious and stressed. Crowds at the airports can also make it worse, a reason most people hate traveling and would rather stay at home. Having to spend a day or two in a strange hotel room or cubicle can cause cortisol levels to rise as well. Bringing a weighted blanket with you can however help. You only need to wrap yourself in it, and the body will start producing enough serotonin to ease travel anxiety and stress.
- Improve Symptoms Of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a real condition that can result from a traumatic or intense stressful event. Most veterans who have been in combat and survivors of severe accidents and physical assault are at a higher risk of suffering from PTSD. PTSD mainly manifests in the form of depression, sleeplessness, nightmares, and anxiety and can turn the patient’s life into a mess. Nonetheless, the tight ‘hug’ of a weighted blanket can help ease the symptoms, making it possible to overcome and can live everyday life normally.
- Might Help Fight Panic Attacks
Panic disorders can be debilitating. This disorder makes one feel useless and vulnerable. Although most people deal with panic attacks differently, a weighted blanket can come in handy, especially if you have an episode. The blanket makes one feel less vulnerable, reduces anxiety, and promotes restful sleep. Weighted blankets trigger increased production of melatonin and serotonin, hormones that help one fight stress and depression naturally.
- Relieves Symptoms Of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The symptoms of OCD vary from one person to another. A good example of this is individuals with a germ phobia, those with strict lifestyle and dietary habits, perfectionists, etc. These individuals have obsessive and persistent thoughts and behaviors, some of which can harm their health. According to research, most cases of OCD are linked to relatively low levels of serotonin in the blood. Deep touch pressure stimulation therapy might help boost serotonin levels and ease symptoms of the same. A weighted blanket can thus be a perfect solution for this.
- It’s Good For The Elderly
Aging adults can have irregular sleep patterns, with many napping for long hours during the day and struggling to sleep at night. Many only get sleep in the wee hours of the morning, increasing their risk of suffering from anxiety, irritability, and depression. Improving their sleep patterns (at night) can, however, help make their lives better. Weighted blankets make it possible for senior adults to settle down and sleep soundly without tossing and turning for hours. These blankets also provide just enough warmth to keep them comfortable and warm through the night. Ensure the blanket is of the correct weight and size for improved comfort and to keep them safe as well.
- Improves Most Symptoms Of Autism
Autistic children can be difficult to handle. Touch and massage therapy provides excellent ways to ease most symptoms of autism, enabling them to live an almost normal life. According to medical researchers, touch therapy increases dopamine and serotonin production while lowering cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Improving levels of these ‘happy’ hormones help improve mood, anxiety, and impulse control.
Research conducted on the impact of weighted blankets on 73 youths with severe sleep problems and autism spectrum disorder had interesting results. According to parent diaries and sleep tests, no improvement was recorded in the kid’s quality of sleep. Interestingly. The autistic kids preferred sleeping in weighted blankets more than standard ones. This at least shows that weighted blankets can help ease most symptoms of autism. Additional research is however required to confirm this.
In another study, autistic kids showed to be in better moods after sleeping with a weighted blanket. They even slept faster than with standard blankets.
- May Help Improve Symptoms Of Tourette’s Disorder
Tourette’s disorder is commonly characterized by uncontrollable movements and ticks. This causes the patient to be anxious and exhausted most of the time. However, deep touch pressure therapy helps provide a sense of calm and eases anxiety. Weighted blankets can thus come in handy in managing and easing most of these symptoms.
Who Can Use Weighted Blankets?
Many individuals who have insomnia and chronic anxiety can take advantage of weighted blankets. The benefits of switching from the cozy comforter to this blanket are immeasurable. Decades of research and studies also show that weighted blankets are more beneficial for individuals with ADHD, autism, insomnia, and many others.
- Those with ADHD
Students suffering from ADHD find weighted blankets quite beneficial. According to a study conducted on the same, students that wear weighted vests performed better in class than without. The same applies to task and assignment completion. Weighted blankets can also help improve attention by promoting good quality sleep.
- Those With Alzheimer’s
Around 25% of Alzheimer’s patients suffer from depression, fear, and fatigue. One of the reasons for this is that these patients cannot wrap their minds around many things. Weighted blankets can however help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression in these patients, improving their overall quality of life.
- Individuals With Sleep Disorders
Weighted blankets have long been used to improve the quality of sleep. That said, anyone showing signs of insomnia can take advantage of the soothing benefits of weighted blankets to enjoy a good night’s sleep. These blankets are also effective for young children with trouble sleeping. There’s, however, little evidence on the effectiveness of the same on adults.
- Persons with Autism
Weighted blankets can come in handy in easing symptoms of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). Most autistic persons have trouble sleeping. Deep touch therapy helps relieve common symptoms such as social anxiety, muscle spasms, and difficulty sleeping. These blankets would be a perfect solution for persons with ASD.
- PTSD Patients
Deep touch therapy has shown to be quite effective in calming the nervous system. Weighted blankets can thus help trauma patients to fight off these symptoms, relax, and feel safe.
Do Weighted Blankets Work?
Although there are ongoing studies on the same, recent studies have shown weighted blankets to be effective in relieving most symptoms and physical pains. According to a survey conducted by Swedish researchers in 2020, weighted blankets showed to improve sleep for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and ADHD. The study involved 120 subjects who used weighted blankets for 4 weeks and another group using light blankets. Those on weighted blankets showed remarkable improvement in sleep quality, fatigue, and anxiety.
In another study (in 2021), weighted blankets proved to be effective in improving sleep quality in persons with ADHD and autistic children. The study involved 37 adults and 48 children who used weighted blankets during the study period. In a similar survey conducted in 2020, 28 participants who have insomnia used weighted blankets for 6 weeks. The participants recorded a remarkable improvement in their ability to fall and stay asleep. Many slept faster and soundly with the weighted blankets compared to using light blankets.
Although most of these studies revolved around a small group, it shows that weighted blankets are beneficial and can improve a person’s way of life, especially for those with chronic anxiety and sleep problems. Many people use these blankets to help ease physical pain from an injury, accident, etc., and to help fight anxiety or sleep better. If you, or a loved one, have been struggling with the conditions mentioned above and haven’t found help yet, a weighted blanket might help. You only need to shop around for the right blanket for their taste.