In the past few years, weighted blankets have been deemed as the so-called ‘magical blankets’. Even nowadays, people seem to favor weighted blankets over the regular ones under the belief that the weighted ones carry numerous benefits for our mental health. Beyond mental health benefits, the weighted blankets have primarily come under the spotlight because of how much they can also benefit people with sleep problems.
Many have stated that using a weighted blanket has helped them deal with sleep or regular anxiety, sensory problems, stress, etc. Regardless of whether old or young, weighted blankets seem loved by everyone. But, what is the secret behind these cozy, warm, and soft blankets? In the following paragraphs, we’ll explore the benefits and see if the assumptions about these blankets hold any water in sleep disorders and mental/physical research.
Weighted Blankets: Explained
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Also known as gravity blankets, weighted blankets resemble the regular blankets, even though they have a completely different purpose than the regular ones. Weighted blankets are, in fact, filled with hypoallergenic, non-toxic polypropylene pellets. The pellets are distributed around the blanket evenly, giving it enough weight that is usually equal to the 10% of the user’s body weight. Weighted blankets are designed to fit your body, and not cover the whole bed, so there as well you can see the difference in purpose and use.
What Are They Used For?
Weighted blankets have been designed with one purpose in mind; to ease and soothe one’s anxiety, stress, and depression in order to get a good night’s sleep and experience anxiety symptoms improvement. These blankets have been developed to aid individuals experiencing mental health issues, from autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, PTSD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and many others.
The reason these blankets aid mental health issues lies in the discovery of deep touch pressure therapy. Studies and doctors have shown that light, but firm pressure around the body (resembling hugging or cuddling) releases and boosts oxytocin in people with mental health issues or sensory processing disorder. Oxytocin is a hormone known as the ‘cuddle or love hormone’, and it is released when people snuggle or bond socially. The hormone plays an important role when it comes to reproduction, social bonding, childbirth, and breast-feeding. So, with this in mind, we can say that weighted blankets are used for;
- Calming and relaxing
- Comforting one’ self
- To facilitate engagement in nurturing one’s self
- To relieve anxiety and panic attacks
- To improve depression symptoms
- To promote sleepiness and hopefully get a good night’s sleep (in case of sleep disorders, like insomnia)
- To regulate the sleep-wake cycle
What Are The Main Benefits Of A Weighted Blanket?
1. Lowers Stress, Anxiety and Improves Depression Symptoms
Because weighted blankets are designed to promote calmness and relaxation, they’re ideal for individuals who deal with anxiety, stress, and depression. These blankets can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depressive episodes, and even panic attacks. Because they mimic the feeling of being hugged and cuddled, they promote the release of oxytocin, which further promotes the feeling of love, care, comfort, safety, and everything we as humans sometimes need to feel to be well and okay.
Research shows that the way weighted blankets apply pressure on the body reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. This nervous system is often responsible for anxiety and panic attacks, which makes us feel incredibly stressed, restless, and often sleep-deprived. Instead, the weighted blanket will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts the body and mind in relaxation mode, allowing us to stay calm, relaxed, and eventually sleepy.
Note: Because the weighted blankets help with stress and anxiety, they’re often recommended to individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The blankets work well in regards to calming the senses and distracting from the traumatic memories that trigger anxiety and panic attacks. PTSD individuals often have trouble falling asleep, but the weighted blankets can provide a soothing sensation that promotes melatonin production and helps you fall and stay asleep.
2. Promotes Sleep In Sleep-Deprived Individuals
Weighted blankets are an incredible solution for sleep-deprived individuals or individuals who experience sleep disorders, like sleep anxiety or insomnia. Studies show that weighted blankets can improve one’s sleep significantly, as they create a safe and comfortable environment where the body can promote melatonin production and ensure one falls and stays asleep.
One study in particular has shown the incredible effects of weighted blankets on sleep. In 2015, the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders has published a study where adults, diagnosed with chronic insomnia, were using weighted blankets as an experiment.
They used first their own blankets, then the weighted blankets for two weeks, and then for the final week again their own blanket. The results of the study showed that 4 out of 5 participants preferred to sleep, or fell asleep, using the weighted blanket. They were also able to sleep longer, with no or little disturbances throughout the night.
3. Useful In Sensory Integration Therapy For ASD
For children and adult individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, it can be hard to calm down and fall asleep. The reason for this lies in the sensory issues in cases of ASD, where autistic individuals have difficulty processing sensory input, which creates anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation. That is why weighted blankets are used to alleviate the pronounced effects of restlessness, stress, and anxiety which ASD individuals experience.
So, to help ASD individuals, doctors often try out sensory integration therapy using weighted blankets. These blankets help by reducing anxiety, promoting sleep, promote de-escalation of meltdowns and sensory overload, and help the body release serotonin and melatonin. Furthermore, the blankets promote the release of oxytocin, and generally reduce stress and calm down.
ASD individuals often have an issue with hugging, so weighted blankets help in that sense too. They provide the hugging sensation (which promotes the release of essential hormones) without causing discomfort and stress to the ASD individuals.Read More: How Sleep Affects Autism?
4. Useful In Regular Dental Check-Ups Anxiety
One research, including 15 women at a University in Taiwan, showed that weighted blankets can be useful in alleviating anxiety caused by dental check-ups. Half of the women were given weighted blankets during the first 5 minutes of the check-up, while the other half were given the blankets during the last 5 minutes of the check-up. The reason they were given the blankets at differents times lies in the need for counterbalancing. The researchers wanted to include the time which has passed during the check-up because anxiety does increase over time.
The results showed that participants, while being covered with the weighted blanket, experienced lower anxiety levels, both mentally and physically. The parasympathetic nervous system wasn’t active at this point, since the participants were in the first 5 minutes of the experiment. But, when the check-up started, and the sympathetic nervous system started to dominate, the weighted blanket managed to reduce the anxiety as the body was in the ‘fight or flight’ mode.
This shows that, with the help of weighted blankets, people managed to get the body to control the mind. The reason for this lies in one’s awareness of a stressful situation but undermining the body’s stressful response by enhancing the parasympathetic response using a weighted blanket.
5. Helps With Chronic Pain Issues
One of the best ways to relieve chronic pain issues and symptoms is by using a weighted blanket. People with chronic pain issues often experience low serotonin levels, high cortisol (or stress hormone) levels, and generally experience sleep deprivation. However, by using a weighted blanket, which is known to reduce stress and increase serotonin/melatonin production, one can combat chronic pain at finally get a good night’s sleep.
Furthermore, in chronic pain illnesses, weighted blankets can do wonders, Let’s take fibromyalgia as an example; fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain with stiffness and tenderness in specific points of the body. So, because the illness is personalized and chronic, it can be hard to deal with it using medication only.
That is why doctors recommend people with fibromyalgia use weighted blankets to ease the pain levels. The deep pressure sensation acts as a gentle massage that alleviates pain, releases serotonin, and promotes sleepiness.
6. Other Ways You Can Benefit From A Weighted Blanket
- Blood pressure and heart rate control – weighted blankets promote the production and release of oxytocin. The hormone further promotes the feeling of calmness and relaxation. But, it also plays an important role in the control and reduction of the heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, one should experience better sleep and an overall better mood.
- Improved focus and concentration – research shows that students who use weighted clothes items, vest, or weighted lap pads experience an increase in focus, concentration, and a decrease in anxiety and frustration. They also sleep better, which improves their overall performance in school.
- Restless Leg Syndrome relief – for those with RLS, sleeping can be incredibly difficult. Weighted blankets, however, can provide a relaxing pressure (better than the uncomfortable compression socks), which relieves the symptoms and promotes sleepiness. The blanket won’t constrict the legs and provide uncomfortable amounts of pressure like similar products do.
- ADHD control – individuals with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often experience issues with sleep and focus. That is where weighted blankets come in handy since they promote sleepiness, relaxation as well as focus, and concentration. They will ensure one falls and stay asleep throughout the night, regardless of possible distractions.
Weighted Blankets – FAQs
We hope that our little insight into the benefits of weighted blankets will provide enough info for you to actually go and buy one. We are sure that a weighted blanket will help you calm down after a stressful day, and fall asleep with ease. In these testing times of coronavirus, we all need to feel safe, loved, and calm.
However, with our loved ones miles away, we have to look for that sensation in something else. Luckily, buying a weighted blanket should help you deal with the stressful times, as well as improve your sleep if it has become disrupted throughout the year.