One of the most comfortable and safe spots in the world is found in the middle of your blanket-piled bed, toasty and cozy and cut off from the outside worries of reality. However, some people can’t settle for normal blankets or duvets; instead, they’ve turned to weighted blankets, a popular new trend in personal comfort, self-care and stress management for people with certain nervous or attention disorders.
For those who have never heard of this strange phenomenon, it may be hard to understand: how could a different kind of blanket have such a powerful impact? Well, you may have your doubts, but research on weighted blankets has shown that they can have a significant benefit in a number of ways. Let’s take a closer look, and who knows, by the end of this article, you might put a weighted blanket on your wish list!
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What is a Weighted Blanket?
As the name implies, a weighted blanket is simply a blanket that has additional weight added into it. Just as a down comforter is filled with individual pockets filled with feathers, a weighted blanket is separated into equal areas that contain a given amount of weight, thus helping to keep the weight evenly distributed throughout the covering. What this does is create the effect of an embrace, or additional pressure on the body when the blanket is used to cover yourself, either while lying down or in a seated position.
That additional pressure has a name—deep pressure stimulation—and all of us have experienced it at one time or another. Imagine the last time you saw your best friend and gave them a huge hug that lasted for what must have been minutes! There is a reason that an embrace feels so good, aside from the emotions of being with someone you care for. Such deep, widespread pressure on the body can have a direct physiological effect, namely reducing stress and anxiety, and helping to aid in sleep disorders.
Weighted blankets come in a range of weights, typically from as few as 2-3 pounds up to 25+ pounds; there are guides for which blankets are appropriate for which age groups and body weights, but everyone’s personal comfort level should determine which blanket is right for them. These weighted blankets can get quite expensive, depending on the material, the weight, and the brand, but given the proposed benefits, some people are willing to spend quite a bit of cash!
Potential Benefits of Weighted Blankets
People use weighted blankets (and similar compression or pressure-delivering products) for a variety of reasons, the main ones being the release of serotonin that they can stimulate, which can help in relieving stress and anxiety, regulating blood pressure and stabilizing your pulse, and inducing deeper, more long-lasting sleep.
When deep pressure stimulation is applied by the weight of the blanket, it makes it slightly more difficult to move, although it should not be restrictive or difficult to manage. This pressure produces a sense of calm and stability, similar to what you may experience when your parents used to tuck you in tight to bed. Your body is more able to relax, your muscles can loosen, and you can more readily prepare for sleep. When your blood pressure and pulse stabilize, sleep is much easier to attain, which is why people who suffer from insomnia are some of the biggest proponents of these blankets.
For those who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, children on the autism spectrum, or others dealing with behavior or nervous system disorders, such as restless leg syndrome, weighted blankets can have a soothing and calming effect. There are also often tactile elements in the fabric, such as small buttons, seams or textural patterns, which have also been shown to have a psychologically soothing effect on people suffering from these types of conditions.
On a larger scale, the blanket itself, being weighted, will have a massage-like quality on the body every time you move. Gentle stroking of parts of the body is one of the most effective ways to calm a person down, so a weighted blanket operates on a similar idea, but is a tool that can be incorporated into self-care.
The Science Behind Weighted Blankets
While all of these claims and pieces of anecdotal evidence are interesting, and have certainly led to this growing fad, is there actually a scientific basis for this trend? As it turns out, unlike many other at-home remedies or traditional methods of healing, there has been a good amount of research done on the effects of deep pressure stimulation.
On a physiological level, when your body is experiencing stress, the sympathetic nervous system is being engaged. This is the part of your nervous system that controls your fight-or-flight response. It is responsible for releasing stress hormones and adrenaline, moderating your metabolism, and keeping your body in a heightened state of preparedness. If your sympathetic nervous system remains engaged for long periods of time, it can result in exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and chronic inflammation. The sympathetic nervous system should be balanced by the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls feelings of calm and restoration; it takes over during your restful hours, when your body is rejuvenating.
Research has found that deep pressure stimulation is better able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and the release of serotonin makes it easier for the nervous system to control other impulses and hormonal fluctuations. Studies show that the decrease in blood pressure and heart rate associated with use of a weighted blanket correlated with decreased feelings in stress and anxiety. Other studies have identified longer periods of uninterrupted sleep, backed by sleep monitoring data, when weighted blankets are used by those who have reported having trouble achieving restful sleep.
When it comes to the use of weighted blankets with people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the tactile and pressure aspect of this tool is the most significant. Some people on the spectrum struggle to properly manage the stimuli from their environment, which can result in behavioral issues and distress. The use of weighted blankets can help the mind and body align, reducing the distractions of the environment and inducing a sense of calm.
A Final Word
If you were skeptical when you first heard about the use of weighted blankets for so many therapeutic purposes, don’t worry… you’re not alone! However, this is one of the more unusual trends in recent years that has strong evidence backing its physiological and therapeutic value. If you struggle with nerves, stress, anxiety, sleep or have others in your care with behavioral or nervous disorders, a weighted blanket could be exactly what you need to improve the situation!
The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices and Our Overall Health The Happiness Project, Tenth Anniversary Edition: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun