What is a weighted blanket? Benefits and usage for a better night sleep
Weighted blankets are a vital aid for many people who hope to reduce stress, improve sensory stimulation, or simply get a better night’s sleep. Although they’ve been around for years, it’s only recently that weighted blankets have become popular with the general population, having previously been used mostly by specific communities. But what exactly is a weighted blanket, how does it work and, most importantly, how can it benefit you? Read on to find out.
What is a weighted blanket?
A weighted blanket is, as the name suggests, a blanket with weights inside. These are normally small beads or pellets made of glass, plastic or metal. Weighted blankets were originally developed as therapeutic tools to help calm and provide sensory relief to people on the autistic spectrum, others with dementia, or those suffering with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. However, their popularity has evolved and now people from all walks of life use weighted blankets to provide comfort or aid sleep.
Most weighted blanket designs involve internal quilting, as this means the pellets can be dispersed evenly throughout the blanket and held in place within the stitching. They usually weigh somewhere between 5 and 30 pounds (about 2-13 kilograms), and it's recommended to not use a weighted blanket that’s more than 10% of your overall body weight. There’s no standard when it comes to design – duvets and knitted blankets tend to be the most popular, but you can also find weighted blankets with specialist properties like fabric that either cools or heats.
How do weighted blankets work?
Weighted blankets work by creating deep pressure stimulation, a therapeutic technique used to calm the nervous system. Deep pressure stimulation has been proven to reduce arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, even when utilised for only a short period of time. The sympathetic nervous system is what controls the ‘fight or flight’ response associated with anxiety, so any reduction in sympathetic arousal should mean a reduction in feelings of anxiousness.
It’s also thought that pressure therapy reduces quantities of the stress hormone, cortisol, while increasing production of serotonin and melatonin, which help to stabilise mood and improve sleep quality respectively. When you use a weighted blanket, you are essentially putting your body into its ‘rest’ state. This is why they’re such a good solution if you’re hoping to curb anxiety, promote sleep, or easily wind down after a stressful day at work. The same effects are evident with other forms of deep pressure stimulation, which range from massages to something as simple as a hug – they all leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.
What are weighted blankets used for?
Weighted blankets are often used as therapeutic tools for a whole host of different disorders and health conditions. Here are some of the most common uses for weighted blankets.
Weighted blankets are what followed autism researcher Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine, which pioneered the concept of deep pressure therapy. It’s therefore not surprising that many autistic people find great comfort in using a weighted blanket. While the science isn’t yet fully understood, it’s thought that the autistic brain learns to focus on the deep pressure sensation rather than other sensory stimuli that can feel more unpleasant.
Weighted blankets can be a good solution for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because they give the brain something to do – process the incoming sensory stimulation. By distracting the brain with this background stimulation, people with ADHD can avoid getting distracted themselves from whatever task they’re trying to complete.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD)
In people with sensory processing disorder, information from sensory sources gets jumbled up and stuck in the brain, kind of like a neurological traffic jam. As with autistic people, the brain is therefore overstimulated, which can lead to anxiety or meltdowns. A weighted blanket can provide the right level of stimulation to help the brain level itself out again.
Anxiety and depression
By putting your body into its natural rest mode, a weighted blanket can have a hugely positive effect on the symptoms of anxiety. The ‘happy hormones’ released in the process and the ability to get better quality sleep can also mitigate the effects of depression.
One of the most effective uses of a weighted blanket is to aid those struggling with different sleep disorders. Studies have proven a decrease in insomnia severity when a weighted blanket is used at night, and many users report an improvement in symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), too.
What are the benefits of a weighted blanket?
Aside from the common uses just mentioned, there are plenty of other conditions for which weighted blankets can be helpful. For example, providing relief from symptoms of OCD, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and chronic pain such as fibromyalgia. That being said, weighted blankets can also benefit those without neurological differences or mental illness. They are warm and cosy, making a great addition to any chill-out area, and are one of the most effective methods for soothing any general stress.
The pressure therapy effect is beneficial even if you are not feeling anxious or down. It still stimulates the release of serotonin and melatonin, meaning you’ll just enjoy a pleasant lift in mood, or deeper sleep. And there are knock on effects from this – relaxing and slowing down your heart rate is good for you, and getting a better night’s sleep can improve your daytime social interactions. You’ll also feel less groggy in the morning, which means an easier transition into the working day.
There are some people who weighted blankets might not be suitable for, though. If you have obstructive sleep apnoea then a weighted blanket can restrict air flow, and if you’re claustrophobic then they’re probably best avoided, too. Those with asthma, type 2 diabetes or low blood pressure should talk to a doctor before using a weighted blanket. You should also talk to a doctor if you are considering buying a weighted blanket for your child as, depending on their age and abilities, they could become trapped underneath.
Choosing the right weighted blanket
Choosing the right weighted blanket doesn’t have to be difficult. To achieve optimum results, just make sure that you’re not going for a blanket that weights more than 10% of your overall bodyweight, and you’re pretty much good to go! If you think you’d benefit from a weighted blanket but are concerned about becoming too hot at night, our cooling weighted blanket is designed specifically with you in mind. Check out our range of weighted blankets for the full spectrum of colours.