If you’ve spent too many nights struggling to get some sleep, you’ve likely discovered weighted blankets in an online search. However, an often asked question is "How do weighted blankets work?" which is what this blog post is going to go over.
Weighted blankets have helped thousands of people get the wonderfully restorative sleep they need to stay healthy.
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or just have problems sleeping, a weighted blanket might be just what you need to feel soothed so you drift off at night.
These blankets also help as therapy blankets for people with nervous system disorders.
In fact, the concept originated with treatment for people with a sensory processing disorder like autism spectrum disorder, as they suffer from anxiety symptoms. Since then, weighted blankets have been used to help reduce or manage the symptoms of:
- Sleep disorders
- Mental health disorders: depression, anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Restless leg syndrome
- Tourette’s syndrome
Weighted blankets are designed to provide warmth and gentle pressure on the body, similar to the feeling of being held or hugged. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
They are safe for children and adults, and they promote relaxation. Thus, they improve sleep by helping people achieve a relaxed state so they fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply.
I’m feeling sleepy already just thinking of that snuggly blanket!
How weighted blankets help
If you or your child has anxiety, autism or a sensory processing disorder, you may have received medical advice or your occupational therapists may have advised a weighted blanket as a way to help manage the symptoms.
They are well-known for their therapeutic value...
Also referred to as a gravity blanket or a pressure blanket, this special blanket creates a sense of being swaddled. The physical connection that you feel provides a sense of warmth and safety that helps the body relax.
Sleep medicine research shows that weighted blanket therapy creates a type of physical connection that has an abundance of positive effects on hormones governing the nervous system which reduces anxiety and improves both mood and stress levels.
Studies show the benefits of a weighted blanket for improved sleep:
The pressure has been compared to a hug, which research shows releases the hormone oxytocin in the body -- providing a feeling of relaxation and making you feel at ease. Oxytocin also slows the heart and reduces blood pressure, prompting the body to relax.
Boosts Serotonin & Dopamine:
Research shows that this form of therapy, called deep touch pressure stimulation or proprioceptive pressure, promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals that that calm the body and combat stress, anxiety, and depression.
When the weighted blanket stimulates serotonin, melatonin hormones are also released which also promotes sleep and helps regulate the sleep cycle.
This therapy helps ground your body during sleep which enhances the deeply calming effect. Studies show that grounding may help reduce nighttime levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that has a negative effect on blood sugar, digestion, and immunity.
Overall, the deep touch stimulation provides a calming effect that lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and helps the insomniac get the rest they need.
What exactly is a weighted blanket?
Weighted blankets are more complex - and heavier than a comforter or down quilt. For many years, occupational therapists have used them for years to help children with sensory disorders
The blanket has several layers and typically weighs between 4 and to 30 pounds. Every blanket should be selected based on the person’s body weight to get optimum results - roughly 8-12% of body weight. The person’s size (child or adult) will determine the safest weight for that person.
From its layers, the weighted blanket derives its gently soothing power. Zzzzzzz…..
First, there is an outer cover made of a soft fabric. This is from a variety of materials such as 100% cotton (keeps you cooler), super soft polyester, fleece or bamboo. Yes, even bamboo can be crafted into a very soft fabric that is very popular.
Weighted inner section
This section indeed contains the various materials -- including stones, sand, steel ball bearings, rice, wheat, plastic or glass pellets depending on the quality of the product. This section can be used as a standalone blanket -- as that helps to reduce heat.
Here’s an interesting tidbit - it’s quilted inside. The interior section is stitched with small pockets that keep the weight as evenly distributed as possible. Different manufacturers use different techniques to achieve this with the most common technique using a layer of padding -> weighted material -> padding on top. Other methods include the more expensive combination of padding & weights which keeps the weight in place better.
How weighted blankets help
- For those suffering from insomnia.
If you just can’t settle down to sleep or just can’t stay asleep, a weighted blanket may help with your insomnia. Admittedly, the research has involved small studies however the results are promising.
Thus far, the best study was published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. 31 adults with chronic insomnia had their sleep tracked for four weeks -- sleeping for a week with, then without, the weighted blanket.
Nearly all participants -- 4 out of 5 -- liked the weighted blanket, saying they slept longer and were less awake during the night. They settled down to sleep more easily with the weighted blanket and felt more refreshed the next morning. They also reported a calmer night’s sleep. (1)
Sounds very reassuring, doesn’t it?
The weighted material produces a light touch sensation that may feel like a caress, researchers state. This sensation is believed to stimulate neurotransmitters that decrease anxiety. The blanket can be an effective non-drug alternative to improve sleep quality, they add. (2)
- For people suffering from anxiety and restlessness
Imagine feeling calmer as you drift off to sleep. A weighted blanket provides deep touch pressure stimulation, which has been shown to produce a soothing effect that reduces anxiety.
Because deep touch pressure provides this calming effect that aids sleep, the blanket also helps symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If restlessness is an issue for you, this might reassure you…
Deep pressure stimulation helps with restlessness, which aids both adults and children with this common ADHD symptom -- and help with their sleep problems as well, research shows...
In one study, 42 children with and without ADHD had their sleep was tracked by sleep testing and parent diaries for four weeks; two weeks involved using a weighted blanket. The ADHD kids found that the weighted blanket reduced the time it took to fall asleep and the number of awakenings during the night. In fact, they slept just as well as the children without ADHD. (3)
Of course, a weighted blanket is not a cure for improving sleep. You still need to follow what doctors call “good sleep hygiene” -- regular bedtimes, using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, turning off electronics an hour or more before bedtime, and keeping the lighting, sounds, and temperature conducive to sleep.
You’ve done all that, and you still can’t sleep - argh!
Experts say weighted blankets could help with sleeplessness. Insomnia is frustrating, and can produce anxiety even in people who are not generally anxious -- which only makes the insomnia problem worse!
You may need a little extra soothing at bedtime -- the soothing that a weighted blanket is designed to provide. The steady deep pressure can quiet the body’s arousal, leading to less anxiety and tension.
If a good night’s sleep eludes you -- if you have trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep -- it may be time to try a weighted blanket.
If you finally catch that elusive sleep, you’ll be on cloud nine :)Sources: