What Is a Weighted Blanket?
There are few things more restorative than settling down in bed after a long day. While you’re looking forward to that blissful slumber, there are a number of factors that can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all sneak in and make it impossible to get the rest you need. Weighted blankets, which have long been a therapeutic tool used in occupational therapy, have recently garnered a fair amount of interest for their ability to calm and soothe.
Weighted blankets have also come into the spotlight for their ability to effectively soothe anxiety related conditions, even during the day. Children and adults with ADHD, anxiety, and autism have benefited from the immediate comfort provided by a weighted blanket draped over their bodies. In the realm of anxiety related therapies, weighted blankets offer a gentle, natural treatment option.
But what is a weight blanket, you might be asking?
Weighted blankets are personal, throw sized blankets that are heftier than traditional blankets. They’re filled with weighted materials, such as glass beads or plastic pellets, that are evenly distributed to provide a light pressure against the body. The pressure provided by weighted blankets is linked to improved relaxation and has been associated with easing feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and depression, as well as helping children with self-regulation.
In many cases, weighted blankets can help improve the daily quality of life of those who use them. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Use a Weighted Blanket?
It’s hard to argue that there are few things that feel better in this world than a warm embrace, especially when you’re sleepy. A nice hug not only feels good, it does amazing things for your health. At this point, there has been enough research on the value of touch, especially hugs, to validate what we’ve suspected all along.
Hugs release the "feel good" hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin plays other critical physiological roles, but its role in encouraging bonding can’t be ignored. In fact, it’s one of the primary hormones that contributes to mother/infant bonding immediately after birth.
The light pressure of a weighted blanket stimulates the very same receptors that are initiated when you receive a hug. We tend to focus more on the emotional aspects of using a weighted blanket, however, touch therapy has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, which is something that offers both immediate and long term health benefits. It’s easy to make the argument that we’re just beginning to tap into the therapeutic benefits that weighted blankets provide.
Weighted Blankets and Deep Pressure Stimulation
Weighted blankets provide something called deep pressure stimulation. It can best be described as a firm but gentle pressure that typically produces a relaxing effect. Deep pressure stimulation is the type of pressure that can come from a relaxing massage or a long embrace, or from using a weighted blanket.
Any time you apply the type of pressure that comes from a hug or a massage, there is a shift in your nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is often called the involuntary nervous system because it regulates all those involuntary body processes that keep us alive. Think along the lines of heart rate regulation, body temperature, blood pressure, digestion, etc. It’s the sympathetic nervous system that’s also responsible for the fight or flight response to stress or danger.
In contrast to this is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming and relaxing your body. These two are like they Ying and Yang of your nervous system. Deep pressure stimulation causes a shift from your reactionary nervous system, to the one that comforts, calms, and soothes. As the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, there’s a release of all these feel good neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. The deep pressure stimulation that happens when you use a weighted blanket helps produce a sense of calm, relaxation and comfort, while aiding in sleep and impulse control.
Weighted Blanket Benefits
There are many physical and mental benefits of using a weighted blanket. Some of the most common ones include:
- Combat stress
- Relieves restless leg syndrome
- Helps children self-regulate
- Promotes better sleep
- Reduces anxiety
- Aids in sensory processing disorder
- Releases feel good hormones like serotonin
- Lowers hypersensitivity to touch
- Improved focus
Children and Weighted Blankets
According to the ADD Resource Center, there are 6.4 million children in the United States who are coping with ADHD, and the CDC reports that 4.4 million children are diagnosed with anxiety. As parents and caregivers, searching for the best treatments and therapies to help their children navigate these difficult conditions is a challenge.
Kids weighted blankets can help children with ADHD and mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, in a number of ways. In the same way that weighted blankets help soothe adults, the deep pressure stimulation also soothes children. Children as young as one year old can benefit from the soothing and calming effects of weighted blankets for providing. For children, their use doesn’t need to be limited to sleep, but anytime the child needs soothing and calmness.
There are a couple of factors to consider when determining which weight to choose. For children, especially small children, go with the lowest weight possible. This is for safety reasons, but also because anything heavier is likely to be uncomfortable for the child. Five pound weighted blankets are considered safe for most children once they reach toddler or preschool age. Never use a weighted blanket on a younger child without speaking to your physician first.
Different Types of Weighted Blankets
When considering what is the best weighted blanket for you, it’s important to realize that they’re not all created equal. Like other types of bedding, weighted blankets come in a variety of styles, including different types of fillers and various weights. There are a few key factors you’ll want to consider when purchasing a weighted blanket.
Arguably the most important factor in choosing a weighted blanket is the weight. You can find weighted blankets that range from five to 30 pounds. If you happen to spot one that weighs more than that, pass it by. Once you cross over the 30 pound threshold the weight of the blanket can become dangerous to your health and safety.
Generally speaking, the formula where users of weighted blankets find the sweet spot between comfort and benefit is at about 10% of their body weight. For instance, someone who weighs 150 pounds should start with a 15 pound blanket. Of course, this number isn’t going to work perfectly. If you’re at an in-between weight, say 175 pounds, you’re more likely to get the benefits you’re looking for by moving up in weight and choosing a blanket that weighs 20 pounds instead of 15 pounds.
The materials used in a weighted blanket to evenly distribute the weight varies between manufacturers. They can be filled with tiny glass beads, plastic beads, or poly pellets, all of which can work effectively.
Glass beads tend to be the favored filling because of their even weight distribution, and less of a tendency to lump into certain areas of the blanket. However, it’s all a matter of personal choice, so choose the one that offers the most comfort and benefit in your price range.
Where Can I Buy a Weighted Blanket?
You can purchase weighted blankets from a number of sources. Your local home and bedding store will likely stock them, as well as many department stores. However, your choice of weights, filling, and outer material will likely be limited. You can find a more expansive selection by searching online and researching your options.
The use of a weighted blanket as a tool to calm and soothe in a therapeutic manner is a personal decision. If you or your child is coping with anxiety, stress, depression, or attention disorders, it’s always best to speak with a trusted medical professional about treatment options. A weighted blanket for anxiety or other mental health concerns can provide an effective complimentary element for your therapeutic approach to mental health.
- CDC (Data and Statistics on Children's Mental Health)
- The A.D.D. Resource Center (ADHD Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You)
- Biological Psychology (More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women)
- Hypertension (Long-Term Absolute Benefit of Lowering Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Patients According to the JNC VI Risk Stratification)
- Applied Behavior Analysis Edu.org (What is Deep Pressure Stimulation?)