What Do Weighted Blankets Do?

Weighted blankets are now hotter than ever. That’s thanks not only to how comfortable they are, but to their long list of therapeutic benefits. From combating stress to comforting sufferers of more serious clinical conditions, weighted blankets have a lot going for them!

In this article, we’ll walk you through all the benefits of weighted blankets, including the day-to-day comforting effects and all the medical benefits.

What Do Weighted Blankets Feel Like?

The real reason many people are going crazy for weighted blankets is because of how they feel. Since weighted blankets are heavier than your regular blanket, there’s a hug-like sensation as the blanket presses onto you.

Not only does the weight create gentle pressure, but it also allows the blanket to wrap around you. Many people describe this feeling as if being wrapped in a cocoon.

From a scientific perspective, wrapping yourself up in a weighted blanket is a form of so-called deep pressure therapy. Deep pressure therapy (abbreviated DPT) has been shown to have a profound effect on the body: it creates a sense of calmness and peace.

It’s this deep pressure therapy idea that explains many of the benefits of weighted blankets:

  • A calming, comforting sensation
  • Reduced restlessness and agitation
  • Reduced stress and pain

And in fact, it’s this deep pressure therapy that gives weighted blankets many of their medical benefits — so let’s dive into those!

The Medical Benefits of Weighted Blankets

That’s right — whether you want to believe it or not — weighted blankets have medical benefits! Many of these benefits are associated with the deep pressure therapy we talked about just a second ago, but the list of conditions you can combat with weighted blankets is still pretty amazing…

Stress, anxiety, depression, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, autism, fibromyalgia, ADHD, PTSD, panic disorder, and various age-related disorders…

Now, although weighted blankets can’t actually “cure” all of these conditions, they do an impressive job of managing and controlling the conditions and their symptoms. So, let’s dive in and see how weighted blankets do what they do!

Stress

Everyone faces stress — whether we like it or not. In fact, stress is a natural physiological reaction to the daily demands of life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make dealing with it any easier.

There’s always some stress floating about, but you only really notice it as it builds up. A little stress is good since it pushes you to cope and achieve. However, a lot of stress pushes you beyond your ability to do cope, triggering an unhealthy, fight-or-flight-like response from your body. And that’s no-bueno.

Stress can actually develop into a variety of more serious issues — even heart problems — so it’s important to start treating it early on.

Typically, the approach to treating stress uses a range of lifestyle activities, like regular exercise, relaxation in the form of meditation or yoga, or even with humor, and occasionally sedative drugs like those used in the management of depression and the spectrum or anxiety disorders.

But what’s really amazing is that stress can be managed with deep pressure therapy… with weighted blankets! Deep pressure therapy has been used for centuries, and it’s extremely effective for creating a calm, relaxed, and peaceful state.

Anxiety

In the US alone, over 40 million people suffer from anxiety (5). If you’ve suffered from anxiety, then you know exactly how bad it gets — you’re less productive than normal and struggle to maintain a healthy social life.

Following extensive research, there are several management options for anxiety, ranging from pharmaceuticals to behavioral modifications. Once again though, the use of weighted blankets has proven to be a safe and effective choice for therapy. This is according to a 2008 study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health (6).

The science? Weighted blankets act as a form of deep pressure therapy, releasing endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones that alleviate anxiety and suffering, which bring the sunshine back into your life.

Depression

An often-overlooked condition, depression affects over 322 million people worldwide (7). While some finally speak up and get medical help, many people suffer the consequences silently: fatigue, poor productivity, and plain old unhappiness.

The most frequent choice for managing depression is the use of antidepressants, which often, like other medication, cause several side effects. The safer way to deal with depression is to opt for a weighted blanket, according to a 2016 study by Duvall, Dunne, Schleif, & Holschuh (2).

Like in dealing with anxiety, weighted blankets act through the release of hormones in your body which have antidepressant effects.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Some people suffer from a crawling or tingling sensation in their legs, mostly during the night, and end up shuffling their legs to cope with it. This condition is called restless legs syndrome, and affects up to 10% of the population in the UK (8).

With no specific medical treatment for the syndrome, most approaches focus on controlling the symptoms (9). Instead of taking a medication every night for many years, some people opt for non-medical treatment options. These include a massaging the legs, a hot bath, ice pack, a heating pad, compression socks, and of course weighted blankets!

Compression socks are one of the most popular treatment strategies for restless legs syndrome. They apply pressure to the legs in an effort to soothe the tingling. Unfortunately, the tightness of the socks can actually become really uncomfortable.

As such, a more comfortable option is the use of weighted blankets. The blankets offer the needed pressure (Parker & Koscinski, C, 2016)(4) on the legs without the constriction and associated discomfort. Users will, therefore, enjoy the warmness of a blanket while having their restless legs syndrome dealt with.

Insomnia

Statistics show that 50 to 70 million people in the US experience sleep disorders, most of which are cases of insomnia (13). Globally, the numbers are worrying. Inability to fall asleep may seem like nothing much but when it is persistent, the effects can be ruining.

If you present insomnia to a hospital, you will most likely be offered up lifestyle changes, and in more severe cases medications. One easier way to deal with insomnia is the use of a weighted blanket when you go to bed according to (Ackerley, Badre, & Olausson, 2015) in their study on the effects of weighted blankets on insomnia (1).

As mentioned earlier, the blanket acts like deep touch therapy. Here, serotonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, is released to induce sleep. The blanket also feels like a warm, tight hug, which gives you the emotional peace to sleep like a baby.

Weighted blankets might also improve your sleep indirectly, through the reduction of symptoms associated with other conditions on this list, like anxiety, depression, and restless legs syndrome (6).

Autism

For those suffering from autism, life is challenging. The impairments in social interactions, communication skills, and developmental language make it difficult just to get through the day. With most autism sufferers having an associated anxiety disorder (according to Indiana University Resource Centre for Autism), they often have difficulties with sleeping too.

Despite being heavily researched, autism is not yet curable, and therefore management involves the control of symptoms. It is often a combination of therapies, medications, and specialist care routines. Recently, mounting evidence from Harvard researchers has shown that deep pressure therapy can also be used in treating autism (10).

Weighted blankets have been shown to improve the quality of life of autism sufferers across several studies, including a 2014 randomized trial study on weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children (Gringras, et al., 2014).

Fibromyalgia

Another established benefit of weighted blankets is in the management of fibromyalgia. This disease, despite being the second most common bone and muscle health condition, is little understood. It takes an average of 4 years to be diagnosed because of its silent nature and dismissal by most healthcare providers; over 70% of cases remain undiagnosed.

Fibromyalgia is associated with a whole handful of unpleasant symptoms:

  • Widespread pain and stiffness
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Headaches
  • Frequent urination
  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fogging
  • Anxiety and depression

Currently, fibromyalgia is treated with the prescription of a whole range of medications — and of course, that means a whole range of side effects. An easier option is the use of a weighted blanket (4). It uses deep pressure therapy, which, notably, has been shown to aide in the management of widespread pain and stiffness. Of course, weighted blankets have no side effects or hidden costs to worry about.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD affects millions of children, many of whom carry it into adulthood. This condition is defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as a combination of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.

The management of ADHD, just like the other mental problems, has both pharmacological as well as non-pharmacological methods. Drugs address the symptoms of the disorder with great results, but many opt for other methods because they don’t like the idea of taking drugs for years on end.

Non-medical methods include a healthy diet that is rich in omega three fatty acids, relaxation therapies like meditation and yoga, adequate sleep daily and other methods.

Studies have shown that deep pressure therapy is also useful in dealing with ADHD. Its effect in autism is virtually replicated in ADHD and has made it a great option for most people. Weighted blankets have been shown to adequately deliver this deep pressure by giving a firm but gentle pressure on the body that allows for the relaxation of the central nervous system and increased release of serotonin.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Most often, people think PTSD only affects those who have been at war, but the list is actually a lot longer. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as a disorder occurring in people who have witnessed or been exposed to almost any traumatic events — for instance, natural disasters, terror attack, serious accident, combat/war or other violent assault.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are currently a number of options for management of PTSD. From cognitive behavioral therapy to exposure therapy, the current approach to PTSD treatment often involves a large amount of very costly therapy.

However, just like in dealing with anxiety and depression, weighted blankets offer several benefits that are key in the management of PTSD symptoms:

  • Better sleep with fewer nightmares and interruptions during sleep
  • Lower stress levels that minimize the episodes of PTSD attacks
  • Reduction in physical pain
  • Improvement in mood and general well-being

Most of the above effects are courtesy of the elevation of the serotonin hormone, due to the firm but gentle deep pressure exerted by the weighted blanket. The only exception is the improvement of the mood, which is due to the elevation in oxytocin levels.

The overall effect is the reduction of anxiety, achievement of a calmer state and reduction in pain which are key in the management of PTSD. It allows for great therapy every night when you get into bed or decide to take a break during the day.

Panic Disorder

Another closely related condition in the spectrum of anxiety disorders is the panic disorder. Statistics by Anxiety and Depression Association of America show that over 5.2million adults suffer from Panic Disorder in the US alone.

There are currently treatment options that won’t cure the disorder, but will instead help eliminate or reduce the symptoms. When the symptoms are well controlled, you can enjoy a normal life. Management options include:

  • Medications, which are mostly Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
  • Therapy, with an experienced professional (including cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Non-pharmacological methods, like regular exercise, adequate sleep, avoiding stress, and the use of deep touch pressure therapy (15) like weighted blankets

Among the above treatment modalities, weighted blankets stand out to be one of the most effective with the least side effects. As you already know the antidepressants used, in this case, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, have quite a number of side effects and long-term use is not recommended. Weighted blankets do the same thing — increase serotonin levels in the body — but without the side effects seen in the use of the drugs.

The result is prevention of panic attacks without having to deal with side effects, extra costs, and the struggle to remember to take the medications before going to bed.

Disorders of the Elderly

As you grow older, your body slowly finds it more difficult to adapt to the daily challenges of life. Sleep becomes elusive. Generalized body aches, fatigue, and other issues creep in. You are less able to cope with anxiety and depression.

Management often involves the treatment of the causes if possible or the management of individual symptoms as they present. Some people opt for drugs that include sleeping pills for sleep disturbance, painkillers for the pain, anxiolytics for the anxiety and antidepressants for the depression. However, it is a risky path as the liver and kidneys which are involved in the elimination of the drugs from the body are at this point less functional due to aging. The drugs, if taken for a significant amount of time, may cause further damage or accumulate to toxic levels with a variety of effects.

A safer way of dealing with these conditions is to adopt the non-medical options. These options include having a therapist and the more recent use of weighted blankets. When used by the elderly, weighted blankets have been proven to:

  • Reduce stress levels
  • Decrease symptoms of restless leg syndrome
  • Offer better sleep quality
  • Decrease Alzheimer’s symptoms like insomnia
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Manage depression

Conclusion

As you can see, weighted blankets offer many health benefits. Through their firm but gentle deep pressure, they are able to make your body deal with several conditions through the hormonal system and other mechanisms. You can get yourself a great weighted blanket on Amazon today to enjoy the many benefits.

References

  1. Ackerley, R., Badre, G., & Olausson, H. (2015). Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia. Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, 2(3), 1-7.
  2. Duvall, J. C., Dunne, L. E., Schleif, N., & Holschuh, B. (2016). Active hugging vest for deep touch pressure therapy. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing. Adjunct (pp. 458-463). ACM.
  3. Gringras, P., Green, D., Rush, C., Sparrowhawk, M., Pratt, K., & Wiggs, L. (2014). Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children—a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 134(2), 298-306.
  4. Parker, E., & Koscinski, C. (2016). The Weighted Blanket Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Weighted Blankets and Deep Pressure for Autism, Chronic Pain, and Other Conditions. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  5. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J004v24n01_05
  7. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression
  8. https://www.rls-uk.org/what-is-rls
  9. https://www.webmd.com/brain/restless-legs-syndrome/rls-facts#3-7
  10. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/research-into-our-sense-of-touch-leads-to-new-treatments-for-autism/
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
  12. http://www.ptsd.ne.gov/what-is-ptsd.html
  13. https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/insomnia-older-adults
  14. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
  15. https://www.jscimedcentral.com/SleepMedicine/sleepmedicine-2-1022.pdf

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