Weighted blankets boast benefits for a range of conditions
You may have heard about weighted blankets and thought of them as some sort of passing fad, but their benefits are actually rooted in science. Weighted blankets are part of a treatment approach known as Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), where sustained, deliberate pressure on proprioceptive sensors triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. These weighted blankets are constructed using weighted polyester pellets that are sewn into the blanket, usually in compartments to help keep them evenly distributed. Someone sleeping with a weighted blanket enjoys sustained pressure on their proprioceptive receptors, which in turn increases their serotonin levels and provides health benefits.
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Weighted blankets can help mentally and physically
Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that is associated with everything from mood through activity level, and its presence in reduced levels is associated with several anxiety disorders including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. But serotonin’s effects are complicated, so increasing its levels can help with diseases beyond just those listed. Additionally, increasing serotonin levels can, in turn, reduce cortisol levels, with cortisol being the key stress hormone.
Researchers are finding benefits in the use of DPT approaches to treat a wide range of disorders in patients of all ages, from kids through adults. Compared to prescription medication, a weighted blanket has no side effects and costs less over time.
Stress and Anxiety
— Studies have shown as much as a 63% reduction in anxiety in adults using a weighted blanket regularly while laying down, indicating this to be a safe and effective method of reducing stress and anxiety. On a more technical level, through the increase in serotonin and reduction in cortisol that it brings about, the ongoing gentle pressure from weighted blankets can calm the body’s fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) while activating the opposite system—the gentle, calming parasympathetic nervous system.
— Research has pointed to the use of a weighted blanket as correlated to an increase in the length of sleep overnight as well as a reduction in overnight movement in patients suffering from insomnia. Patients actually return to pre-testing levels of both sleep duration and sleep activity if the blanket is removed.
— Occupational therapists frequently use weighted blankets to help individuals with autism find release from stress as well as to sleep better. While there is very limited data proving its efficacy, anecdotal evidence as well as the positive use of Temple Grandin’s “hug machine”—and a weighted blanket often acts as an ongoing hug—points to weighted blankets as having positive results.
Sensory Processing Disorders
— People with sensory processing disorders are extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli, and as a result are at risk for sensory overload and averse to further stimuli, often including contact from other people. Particularly in children, who might not be mature enough yet to have developed coping mechanisms, this can leave individuals prone to meltdowns. A weighted blanket can provide relief from this acute stress and anxiety, while also allowing the sufferer a chance to self-soothe.
— Affecting millions of Americans daily, fibromyalgia comes with chronic pain, often centered around specific tender point sites on the body. Myofascial release is one of the main treatment methods used to address this pain, and it involves gentle, sustained pressure at those tender point sites as well as over the entire body. Weighted blankets closely mimic this treatment, and therefore can provide much-needed relief.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
— This disorder of the nervous system can keep people up at night as they experience uncomfortable sensations in their legs that can only be relieved by moving around. Patients suffering from RLS found physical relief from the use of a weighted blanket, which via ongoing gentle pressure can calm these sensations and allow RLS sufferers to sleep.
— Anxiety, depression, and mood swings are very common in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, and sometimes the disease can cause confusion that drives people to lash out at their caregivers. The use of weighted blankets can help console these patients in a minimally invasive way
Because of the low cost and lack of potential side effects associated with the use of a weighted blanket, there is not very strong pressure to scientifically study its use in every disease scenario. Anecdotal evidence has been driving word-of-mouth suggestions, which have in turn led doctors to suggest the use of weighted blankets for their patients.