20 Health Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Lover and advocate of natural solutions, there’s a serious hot market item I’ve been using over the last six months that I absolutely swear by.
As the name suggests, a weighted blanket is a blanket that is heavier than your standard blanket. The weight and size of the blanket varies depending on the brand, and the intended user. The extra weight usually comes in the form of small plastic pellets, or glass beads, which are distributed evenly across the blanket to apply a gentle pressure on the body of the child, person, or pet using it. This gentle pressure provides DTP, which stands for Deep Touch Pressure. DTP therapy encourages the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine work together with melatonin. These chemicals naturally induce a calming effect on the body, helping to soothe the nervous system which has the powerful ability to encourage a more restful sleep.
Deep Touch Pressure Therapy
In order to understand how deep touch pressure therapy works, we must consider your body’s physiological response to sensory information and emotional reactions. To do this- it’s important to look at 3 different parts of your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and learn how those systems work together in order to help you function. The Autonomic Nervous System is responsible for receiving information from your body, and environment to send signals out to regulate the functions of many of your body’s organs.
Think about it this way: When you are nervous- the response may be sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, fast breathing, and maybe even an upset stomach. In this same way, think about how you relax every night as you drift off to sleep- slow deep breathing, slow heartbeat, relaxed muscles. All of these physical responses much out of our control come from your functioning ANS system.
The ANS system is composed of 3 different systems: the parasympathetic, sympathetic, and enteric a.k.a gut system. However, in relation to weighted blankets- we’re going to quickly look into how deep pressure therapy primarily affects the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic system.
THE PARASYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
The parasympathetic system of your autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating involuntary functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and stimulating the digestive tract. Deep touch pressure increases this parasympathetic activity and helps slow many high energy functions of the body, thereby helping with regulation.
THE SYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
The sympathetic system of your autonomic nervous system is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response that is elicited during stressful or emergency situations. Think of the adrenaline rush you experience when you’re in an accident or come across a dangerous situation. That is your sympathetic ANS at work!
Deep touch pressure decreases this “fight or flight” sympathetic activity and decreases the level of cortisol, which is the stress hormone which is hugely impactful for people who experience stress, anxiety, or fear on a regular basis (ex: anxiety, PTSD, dementia, ASD).
INCREASES IN ENDORPHINS AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS
Deep touch pressure also results in increased endorphin levels and releases the “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate some brain functions and help with mood regulation. It is also known to stimulate parts of the brain that are responsible for sleep and the production of melatonin. Dopamine is a “happy hormone” that controls the reward or pleasure center of the brain. While it regulates our emotional responses and is in action when we set or achieve goals, an excess of dopamine is also linked to risk-taking and addiction.
At a physiological level, deep pressure therapy helps the two main systems in the autonomic nervous system balance each other out so as to help with emotional regulation. The increased production of serotonin and dopamine counteract the effects of cortisol to hormonally regulate your body’s response to sensory information.
Now that we’ve covered the science behind how Deep Pressure Therapy works, we can better understand how the use of a weighted blanket affects our ANS system and our bodies physiologically.
20 Reasons to Invest a Weighted Blanket
It’s easy to dismiss insomnia as a rough night of sleep if you’ve never experienced it. It’s also safe to say that anyone truly dealing with insomnia will never have that attitude. 1 in 40 million Americans suffer from this sleep condition, and if you’re one of them you probably know exactly how Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club felt. (He was so exhausted he literally hallucinated through the entire movie. He also punched himself.)
While your insomnia might not drive you to create an underground boxing club, it can seriously interfere with your life. Research has shown that deep touch pressure stimulation promotes the release of serotonin in order to regulate sleep. Weighted Blankets provide this firm but gentle pressure anytime you need it which means you can get all the Zs you want.
2. Helps with Sensory Processing Disorder
Researchers have described sensory processing disorder much like a “traffic jam” in your brain. Information gets in, but it somehow gets jumbled and clogged up along the way. This can lead to anxiety and massive meltdowns. Sensory processing disorder can be especially challenging for young kids, who don’t always have the emotional maturity to verbalize how they’re feeling. Studies have shown that weighted blankets can produce a “calming effect” in kids and adults with sensory processing disorder. The same research also states that weighted blankets help reduce the anxiety that often accompanies this condition.
3. Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety is unfortunately quite common, and about 40 million people in the U.S. have some form of it. There are several ways to deal with anxiety, including identifying your triggers, setting aside designated “worry times” throughout the week and, using a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets are a lot like getting a firm but gentle hug — except you don’t have to bribe your roommate or significant other to give you one. Even better, you can get these benefits just about anywhere, from the sofa to your bed.
4. Fights Back Against Stress
Stress happens. Truth is, you don’t have to have a chronic stress problem to feel the negative side effects of it. Whether it’s a bad day at work, an argument with your spouse or an avalanche of bills, stress can do a number on your mental and physical health. The good news is weighted blankets help you fight back. Research shows that deep touch pressure stimulation therapy works. With a weighted blanket, you don’t have to travel to a therapist or buy expensive equipment to get stress relief. Most companies offer weighted blankets in a wide range of attractive, contemporary patterns and styles so that you can even incorporate your weighted blanket into your home’s decor.
5. Improves Focus for ADHD
One of the most common traits of attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD) is a lack of focus. This can be a problem for both children and adults. Whereas some people with ADHD have trouble completing a task, others are inclined to impulsiveness and restlessness. The bottom line is that ADHD poses a wide range of possible symptoms, and it doesn’t always affect everyone the same way. Deep touch pressure stimulation, which is what weighted blankets offer, has been shown to produce a calming, soothing effect that reduces anxiety. And because deep touch pressure also helps with mood and sleep, it’s also great for addressing those symptoms in ADHD sufferers.
6. Eases Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
People with restless leg syndrome often describe it as a tingling or “creepy crawly” feeling in their legs. Because symptoms tend to happen more frequently at night, it can often lead to insomnia and unsatisfying sleep. Traveling in a car or riding in an airplane can be a nightmare when you have an overwhelming urge to constantly move your legs. My partner struggles with restless leg syndrome in his left leg. He’s even stated that sometimes he feels like he can only get relief if he somehow weighs down his leg or puts constant pressure on it. Weighted blankets provide the deep pressure you crave without any constriction.
7. Helps Fibromyalgia Pain
Fibromyalgia has sometimes been called a “silent disease” because so many sufferers fail to get a diagnosis or wait years before receiving one. It’s also a condition that disproportionately affects women.
Characterized by chronic, idiopathic pain in at least 11 out of 18 pain points, fibromyalgia can be debilitating. While certain drugs may help patients manage their symptoms, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. For some people, the gentle but firm pressure of a weighted blanket is an important tool for preventing fibro flare-ups.
8. Improves Sleep Quality
Not everyone who experiences bad sleep has insomnia. Sometimes, fatigue is simply the result of poor sleep quality. While it’s important to get the right amount of sleep, it’s also important to make sure the sleep you get is truly restful and restorative. Some experts refer to sleep quality as sleep hygiene.
One way to improve your sleep hygiene is by using a weighted blanket because deep touch pressure stimulation boosts serotonin, sleeping under firm but gentle pressure can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer and wake feeling more rested.
9. Boosts Mood
When you feel down, it can sometimes seem like you’ll never feel “normal” or happy again. While it’s normal to feel grouchy or irritable, researchers know that some bouts of sadness are caused by chemical changes in the brain. For example, if your brain isn’t producing enough serotonin, it could actually impact your emotional health.
Even better, you can get this therapy at home (or just about anywhere) with a weighted blanket or wrap.
10. Promotes Calm
Have you ever had a day that just refused to go right? The kind of day where you get stuck in traffic on the way to work, spill coffee all over yourself at your desk and then come home to a dishwasher that leaked all over the floor? Bad days can strike when you least expect it — or need it. A popular misconception about weighted blankets is that you must have a diagnosed medical condition to truly need one. While there is 100% science backed studies proving people and families benefit from weighted blankets for medical issues, I also advocate for those who use their weighted blankets just to unwind and de-stress after a long day.
The reality is that everyone can benefit from feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. You deserve a little TLC. Tust and believe, a weighted blanket can definitely deliver it!
11. Encourages Focus in the Classroom
If your child has autism or sensory processing disorder, you know that school can often pose a range of challenges. Classrooms and hallways can be noisy, filled with bright colors and overall distracting. For children with sensory challenges, school can be overwhelming, frustrating and a trigger for meltdowns.
Teachers and occupational therapists have used weighted lap pads and vests for years, and they are popular therapy items in special education classrooms. Research shows that the firm but gentle pressure helps kids feel less anxious and more focused.
12. Eases Pain without Drugs
Understandably, many people prefer to treat pain without drugs. If you’re tired of reaching for over-the-counter painkillers, or you take other medications that make it unsafe for you to use pain relievers, a weighted blanket is a 100% natural alternative to prescription or non-prescription drugs.
13. Eases Travel Anxiety
Travel is supposed to be fun and exciting, but it can also lead to anxiety and stress. Some people have trouble with small, confined spaces like airplanes and cars. For other people, the hustle and bustle of the airport or train station can be overwhelming. And there are also people who simply dislike being outside their comfort zone.
14. Helps the Elderly
There are many ways weighted blankets may benefit the elderly. As we age, we’re at an increased risk of suffering chronic insomnia, which can lead to a host of health problems. Older people also tend to experience higher rates of anxiety, stress and depression. It’s often common for the elderly to suffer changes in their sleep-wake cycle. If you have an older loved one, you may have noticed they tend to stay up very late at night and sleep in short stretches.
When sleep researchers studied weighted blankets, they found that people who use them “liked sleeping with the blanket, found it easier to settle down to sleep and had an improved sleep, where they felt more refreshed in the morning.”
15. Addresses Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most closely associated with veterans who have experienced combat. However, PTSD can affect anyone who has suffered through a traumatic or stressful event.
Mental health professionals often see PTSD in people who have been involved in bad car accidents or a physical assault. Basically, any stressful or traumatic experience can trigger PTSD symptoms.
Various forms of therapy can help ease these symptoms, which often include insomnia and depression. In studies, researchers have observed that weighted blanket therapy lowers blood pressure, reduces pulse rates and helps 63 percent of study participants feel less anxious.
16. Decreases Anxiety in Pets
Does your pup struggle with loud noises? Is your dog an emotional wreck every time an ambulance passes the house, or the neighbors decide that 10 p.m. is a perfect time for setting off fireworks? You may have seen special anti anxiety shirts or vests designed to fit snugly around a dog’s body. While some pet owners say these shirts work, my dogs somehow seem to do a full Houdini routine to wriggle right on out of them. Based on the reviews I’ve seen online, anti anxiety shirts and vests seem to have about a 50-50 success rate.
If a thunder wrap or shirt hasn’t worked for your furry family member, a weighted blanket might do the trick. Just as a weighted blanket can soothe and comfort a human, it may also reduce anxiety in dogs.
17. Soothes Symptoms of Panic Disorder
Panic disorders can literally stop life in its tracks. Worse, many people with panic disorder don’t know when an attack will strike. For others, stressful events seem to make them more susceptible to experiencing a panic attack. There are many ways to manage panic disorder, including using a weighted blanket. Studies have shown that people who sleep with a weighted blanket wake feeling less anxious and more refreshed. Because fatigue is a common trigger for panic disorder, a good night’s rest is an invaluable tool when it comes to controlling it.
18. Helps Manage OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects about 1 in 40 adults and is characterized by persistent, obsessive thoughts and behaviors.
The disorder can cause a large range of symptoms and behaviors, and it tends to look a little bit different for everyone. While many people think of OCD as a strong aversion to germs — and this can certainly be a form of OCD — the reality is the disorder is much broader than how people normally think of it.
Like other psychological disorders, OCD has been linked to low serotonin levels. By using deep touch pressure stimulation therapy, weighted blankets may help boost serotonin and ease the severity of OCD.
19. Manages Autism Symptoms
There is no cure for autism, but researchers have found it’s possible to manage the symptoms through a variety of treatments and therapies. According to Harvard researchers, “one therapy that has mounting evidence of support is massage or touch therapy.” In studies, autism patients responded most favorably to gentler, slower touch. Additionally, researchers found: “Touch therapy has been noted to have immediate and long-term effects on the body’s biochemistry, including decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which play roles in mood regulation, movement, impulse control, and more.”
20. Recreates a Hug
What’s better than being enfolded in a big, warm bear hug? Babies definitely know what’s up. Most infants respond positively to being swaddled, cuddled and rocked. When a child is hurt, one of their first actions is usually to run toward a parent in search of a hug.
As it turns out, adults really aren’t all that different. The instinct to crave a hug doesn’t go away, and most of us still feel calmer and more relaxed when we get one. Skeptical? Think about the last time you snuggled under a down comforter or burrowed under your blankets on a stormy or snowy night. Or maybe you enjoy it when the dentist puts that heavy x-ray protector vest over you, but you can’t quite figure out why.
The comforted, peaceful feelings most of us get from hugs and gentle pressure is really just weighted blanket therapy at work. Studies show that hugs can boost serotonin and dopamine, the two feel-good chemicals in the brain. With a weighted blanket, you can get a hug whenever and wherever you need one. Count me in!
Join the Weighted Blanket Movement!
Here are my Top 3 recommendations for the best weighted blankets on the market.