How does the weighted blanket work? Is a weighted blanket useful? The answer is yes, weighted blankets help solve problems such as sleep disorders, anxiety, ADHD and autism.
WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET?
A weighted blanket is a specific blanket that grey anxiety blanketis designed to be heavier than a regular blanket. They can come in a variety of weights and sizes. They are also made differently by different companies.
Depending on your needs, you’ll want to get a weighted blanket that suits you. We cover more on how to find the right weighted blanket at the end of the article.
While you may not have ever used a weighted blanket, there’s a chance you have already noticed the benefits of what a weighted blanket can do. By this, I mean that often times people will put a lot of blankets on themselves to get a designed “heavy” feeling. Also, even a big hug has similar effects to what weighted blankets can do.
Do Weighted Blankets Really Ease Sleeplessness?
Research in Adults with Insomnia
Perhaps the best evidence to date comes from a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. This study included 31 adults with chronic insomnia. Their sleep was tracked for one week with their usual bedding, then two weeks with a weighted blanket, and then one more week with their usual bedding again.
Four out of five study participants said they liked the weighted blanket. Those in this group slept longer and spent less time awake in the middle of the night while using the weighted blanket, sleep testing showed. Study participants also said they found it easier to settle down to sleep with the weighted blanket. Plus, they reported getting better sleep and feeling more refreshed the next morning.
The theory behind weighted blankets is that they may work, in part, by providing firm, deep pressure stimulation. “The pressure provides a reassuring and cocooning feeling,” says study coauthor Gaby Badre, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Gothenburg and medical director of the sleep disorders clinic (SDS Kliniken) in Gothenburg, Sweden.
In addition, Badre says that the weighting material inside the blanket produces a lighter, stroking-like tactile sensation when you move. “This tactile stimulation, amplified by movements, even if small, may be the equivalent of a caress,” says Badre. It may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and affect nervous system activity in ways that decrease overarousal and anxiety.
Other Research on Weighted Blankets
Further evidence on weighted blankets comes from research in kids with various mental health concerns.
One study looked at 42 children (ages 8 to 13), half of whom had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The children’s sleep was tracked by sleep testing and parent diaries for four weeks, including two weeks of using a weighted blanket. For kids with ADHD, the weighted blanket reduced the time it took to fall asleep and the number of middle-of-the-night awakenings to a level comparable to children without ADHD.
Research in 73 young people (ages 5 to 16) with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and severe sleep problems compared a weighted blanket to an identical blanket without the extra weight. Based on sleep testing and parent diaries, the weighted blanket didn’t improve their sleep. Yet kids and parents preferred the weighted blanket. They may have been picking up on a benefit the researchers didn’t measure. But because they could tell which blanket was heavier, they may also have been swayed by stories on social media and in the press touting weighted blankets for kids with ASD.
Do weighted blankets work for anxiety？
WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR ANXIETY: THE SCIENCE OF WHY THEY WORK
There is an underlying science behind weighted blankets. It’s called Deep Touch Pressure or DTP.
DTP is simply gentle, distributed pressure on the body. It can be accomplished throughweighted blankets, weighted compression vests,weighted lap pads or stuffed animals, massages, or even hugs!
Here are a couple science-backed benefits of DTP.
INCREASED SEROTONIN FOR IMPROVED CALMNESS
sleeping child weighted blanket
One of the reasons why DTP works is because it has been shown to increase serotonin in the body.Serotonin is a chemical in the body that works in conjunction with other hormones to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, and regulate mood. This ultimately hasa calming effect on the body.
DECREASED CORTISOL FOR IMPROVED STRESS LEVELS
In addition to increasing serotonin levels, DTP has also been found to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone which regulates stress responses in the body. High levels of cortisol are associated with high levels of stress and the use of a weighted blanket can actually decrease these stress hormones in the body. This can lead to an improved mood, more efficient sleep, and feeling better physically.
WEIGHTED BLANKETS REDUCE ACTIVITY IN THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
On top of that, weighted blankets have specifically been shown to decrease the activity in the nervous system.This is due to the effects on the vagus nerve, which is involved in regulating heart rate and blood pressure. One study found this when studying people who have anxiety in the dentist office.
Anotherstudy found that physiologically, 33% of people using a weighted blanket had decreases in their nervous system activity,such as pulse rate and blood pressure, while 63% reported having lower anxiety. Overall, 78% of people in the study preferred the weighted blanket as a tool to relieve anxiety.
Astudy that looked at DTP through the use of a weighted vest found that using the weighted vest “for even short periods of time reduced sympathetic arousal and non–stimulus-driven electrical occurrences.” This basically means that their body had physiological changes as it calmed down because of the weighted blanket.
Weighted vests for anxiety are also gaining in popularity, as it’s a version of a weighted blanket that you can use on the go.
WEIGHTED BLANKETS PROMOTE RESTFUL SLEEP
Often times, sleeping will be a major problem for those that suffer from anxiety. This can come from not being able to calm down as well as not being able to slow down the running thoughts in one’s head.One study foundthat people who used weighted blankets have calmer nights of sleep, with a reduction of movement.
The participants noted that they felt that they experienced more comfortable and deeper sleep.
Again, this is due to increased serotonin levels. Serotonin is linked to melatonin, which is the chemical in the body that regulates our sleep/wake signals. When serotonin levels are optimal, this signals melatonin to do its job, which is managing sleep patterns.
It doesn’t really matter where you’re anxiety arises from, it appears that a weighted blanket could help you reduce it and get better sleep. Whether it’s autism,restless leg syndrome, PTSD, OCD, or bipolar, using DTP to increase serotonin can have a very positive effect on those health conditions.
BENEFITS OF WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR AUTISM
WEIGHTED BLANKETS AND AUTISM
The CDC now estimates that 1 in every 68 children is born with some form of autism. They may struggle with communication, or repeating certain behaviors. They may get upset when there is a change in routine, or have a hard time in social situations.
For children with autism, filtering sensory input is challenging. This is because there is a malfunction in one of their senses. The nervous system sends an abnormal number of neural signals to the brain.
Because the brain has a hard time organizing sensory information, it does not receive the correct information from the senses. This makes your child’s brain and body feel unsafe, and survival mode kicks in. However, many children with autism lack the tools to soothe this “fight or flight” response on their own.
This is where a weighted blanket can be useful.
The added weighted of the blanket immediately calms the nervous system. This proprioceptive input also has an organizing effect on the brain. These combined effects provide your child with the tools they need to self-soothe before or during a meltdown.
BENEFITS OF WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN
Whether used at therapy, school, or at home, weighted blankets have been proven to soothe symptoms of autism. Therapeutic benefits include:
An overwhelmed nervous system causes sensory meltdowns. Sensory input, like cuddling and Deep Pressure Therapy, calms the body’s “fight or flight” response. Weighted blankets make your child feel safe, soothing their overly stimulated senses.
IMPROVING TRANSITION TIMES
Children with autism have a hard time transitioning from high to low energy activities. This is especially noticeable when they come home from school, need to start homework, or before bed time. The calming effect from the blanket gives your child the chance to settle down before starting a new activity.
NATURAL SLEEP AID
For many children with autism, falling asleep at night can be a challenge.
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, researchers found that sleep time increased during weighted blanket use. Participants also found it easier to fall asleep, and woke up more refreshed in the morning.
The body’s internal clock is controlled by a hormone called melatonin. Weighted blankets increase melatonin production, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
INCREASED SPATIAL AWARENESS
When your child lays under the weighted blanket, the fabric puts pressure on their sensory receptors. This proprioceptive input benefits your child by allowing them to feel their body’s movements. They can sense when their arm is outstretched or when their knee is bent. This sensory information gives your child a better understanding of their body’s location.
Weighted blankets also have a positive effect on the hormone levels. Researchers found that compressing the body’s sensory receptors actually increases “happy” serotonin levels by 28% percent. They also found that the stress hormone, cortisol, decreased by 31%.
Deep Pressure Therapy has an organizational effect on the brain. This effect reduces unwanted sensory seeking behaviors, such as fidgeting. Without these unwanted behaviors, your child is able to sit and focus in class.
IMITATES A HUG
Many times, children with autism cannot handle the physical touch of even a loved one. This lack of physical touch can causes many developmental problems. Weighted blankets imitate the feeling of a firm hug. This gives your child the feeling that they are safe and secure, while promoting brain development.
Weighted Blankets for Children as Therapy for ADHD & Anxiety
Here is the story of a weighted blanket user who tells the story of his daughter using a weighted blanket.
My daughter, who has ADHD and anxiety, has difficulty controlling her anger. We recently received a weighted blanket, which she has learned to use to calm herself down.
The other day, my daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and sensory processing disorder (SPD), was playing on her trampoline with her friend Harry (who also has ADHD) in our backyard when something happened that typically would have triggered an angry outburst sent her running to her new therapeutic tool, a weighted blanket.
“Stop!” Natalie yelled. “Stop it, Harry. I mean it!”
Nat and Harry love each other — and fight with each other — just like siblings. That day Harry was saying something about what girls can do versus what boys can do — over and over. Natalie was getting mad, and of course, he didn’t stop when she asked him to.
Natalie crawled over to the edge of the trampoline, growling like a rabid dog, jumped down, and ran into the house. When I checked on her a minute later, I found her on the couch, covered by her new weighted blanket, the Magic Blanket. She knew it would help her to calm down.
Natalie’s Magic Blanket is a weighted blanket from the now-defunct Bean Blanket Company, designed for her height and weight. Weighted blankets are a tool occupational therapists (OTs) often recommend for kids with ADHD, SPD, and autism spectrum disorders to help with calming. The weight is intended to provide proprioceptive input to the brain, which has a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system.
I learned several years ago that deep pressure from weight does help Natalie to calm down. One of the most effective techniques to help her regain control during an aggressive outburst is to have her lie on the carpet, put a pillow or chair cushion on top of her, and apply some of my body weight. Our OT did something similar with Nat during therapy sessions — squished her between two beanbag chairs.
After having some success with using deep pressure, we borrowed a weighted blanket (not made by the Original Bean Blanket Company) from Harry so that Natalie could try it. It didn’t seem heavy enough to me to be helpful, and after the newness wore off, we found that it wasn’t, and we gave it back.
But her Magic Blanket is different — it weighs a whopping 16 pounds, with the weight evenly distributed throughout. And the pink chenille fabric is a sensory-delight for exposed skin and fingers — fluffy and soft, with chenille’s traditional supple bumps.
In her anger at Harry, Natalie had turned to her Magic Blanket as a calming tool, and it clearly was helping. Before long Harry came inside to find her. Next thing I knew they were both on the couch, backs against opposite ends of the couch, legs extended. They were both under the Magic Blanket, watching TV calmly.
This brand of weighted blanket — the Magic Blanket — is a keeper! The company no longer exists, unfortunately, but some of their products are still available on Amazon.