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Feeling anxious? Can’t sleep?
You might think you’ve tried everything to calm down and get a peaceful night of rest. Meditation, herbal tea, a warm bath, sleeping pills, breathing techniques, hypnosis, reading the most boring book on the planet, and getting knocked out by the thug down the street, but you probably haven’t yet considered the magical and therapeutic benefits of a weighted blanket.
Originally designed for people with mental health conditions and kids with autism, it wasn’t long before mainstream society discovered how weighted blankets could help both anxiety and insomnia.
While the idea may seem random and entirely new, the concept behind using a pressure blanket to help with anxiety has been around since the beginning of human existence. For example, Paleolithic humans swaddled babies to not only keep them safe, but to also to help them feel secure.
Even our dogs have benefited from the idea of applying pressure for stress relief. In 2013, Thundershirt received a patent to manufacture a fitted vest to “reduce an animal’s anxiety.”
What Are Weighted Blankets?
As the name implies, it is a blanket that’s been weighed down with objects. The first prototypes usually had rice, beans, corn, stone and other small, round objects. However, challenges arose when the food-based items began sprouting. It was also difficult for makers to find things that were sufficiently dense enough to provide the right amount of weight in such a limited surface area.
Another issue they encountered was finding a way to distribute the weight evenly, as they soon discovered that uneven pressure had limited benefits.
Today’s heavy blankets use either plastic pellets or glass beads. To make the materials easier to maintain, there are often two pieces: the anti-anxiety blanket itself, and a covering that’s usually a duvet cover.
Can It Help People with Anxiety and Insomnia?
These gravity blankets have been used to help people with a variety of mental and neurological conditions, including anxiety and insomnia. The way these items work is by mimicking the feeling of a comforting hug.
There’s even more to it than that. The weight of the fabric also provides an effect similar to deep pressure touch (DPT). This type of therapy involves applying pressure gently to the body and extremities. The byproduct of DPT is an increase in serotonin production, which helps with both stress relief and sleep.
People of all ages are turning to this drug-free and safe solution.
How Heavy Should It Be?
Using the right amount of weight is critical. If it’s too light, it won’t have the desired effect. On the other hand, versions that are too heavy could increase anxiety, not reduce it.
As a general rule, it should be approximately 10% of your body weight, plus a couple of pounds. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, your gravity blanket should be 15 to 17 pounds.
If you’re looking at a weighted blanket for adults, there is some flexibility with this guideline, as different people have varying preferences. However, when it comes to buying one for a child, the weight suggestions should be strictly adhered to.
Other Helpful Benefits
This solution can help improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders found that the calming effect of the weight caused patients to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly throughout the night. They also reported feeling more refreshed in the morning.
We’ll cover how this happens biologically in a moment, but we thought it was also interesting that the publication mentioned that not a single person involved in the study reported any negative experiences.
The neurotransmitter, serotonin, is the precursor to melatonin, meaning that when the body produces serotonin, it converts to melatonin. This hormone is what’s responsible for making us drowsy, and it peaks at night when it’s time for bed. Since deep pressure touch releases serotonin, it stands to reason that this neurotransmitter could lead to a spike in melatonin, which ultimately aids in sleep.
DPT increases endorphins like serotonin and dopamine in the body. As we mentioned, serotonin converts to melatonin, which helps people fall asleep. In addition to the sleep-inducing qualities of serotonin, it also makes sense that it’s easier to relax, forget about anxiety and get some rest when you’re feeling happy.
Our nervous system is composed of three parts: the parasympathetic, sympathetic, and enteric systems. We won’t get too much into the science here, but it’s important to note that the parasympathetic system is responsible for regulating bodily functions like digestion, blood pressure, and heart rate. Our body needs to be calm and relaxed for these functions to occur smoothly.
When we’re anxious, our parasympathetic nervous system isn’t able to perform properly. However, DPT increases the activity in this part of the nervous system, helping us relax.
Stress causes a “fight or flight” response, and this triggers activity in another part of the body: the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is active, adrenaline and cortisol (a stress hormone) course through our veins, making us ready for either a battle or sprint. It’s like being chased by a tiger, except there’s no tiger.
As you can imagine, when the sympathetic nervous system is overly active, we feel increased anxiety, and insomnia is an almost certain fate. Thankfully, deep pressure touch (or a heavy swath of fabric that duplicates the effect of it) stimulates the other part of the nervous system, promoting calmness and relaxation.
This item isn’t only meant for sleep issues. They can also help improve focus and concentration. Both kids and adults who sat with a weighted blanket on their lap during an activity like studying or reading reported that they’re better able to focus and concentrate.
In fact, one study showed that kids with ADHD had an 18 to 25 percent improvement in staying on task when they had one of these items.
Pharmaceutical drugs are expensive and have a long list of side effects. If you’re looking for a more natural way to relieve anxiety and get quality sleep, a gravity blanket is a drug-free solution.
Helps People with Sleep Issues
All the functions in the body are related, and by throwing one off balance, it tends to cause other unintended consequences. Insomnia affects nearly one-third of the population, and the effects of sleep deprivation range from obesity to diabetes, and even death.
Many people find that once they experience a night or two of sleeplessness, they fall into a downward spiral and get so anxious about having trouble falling asleep that it turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the main benefits of this weighted material, in our opinion, is that it breaks the cycle of sleeplessness.
Conditions that Can Benefit from It
When people have serotonin deficits, it leads to a variety of mental conditions. Depression is the one that is most often discussed. In general, patients turn to antidepressants to ease their symptoms, and these drugs work by stimulating the brain to produce serotonin.
The problem is that people become dependent on the drug, and in the long-term, it harms the brain’s ability to make this neurotransmitter on its own. By using a weighted blanket, people find that they can stimulate serotonin production naturally and without the use of pharmaceuticals.
Aggression is a direct effect of an overactive sympathetic nervous system. As we mentioned earlier, applying pressure with weighted fabric can dial down the activity of this portion of the nervous system and help people feel less aggressive.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition that causes someone to be driven to perform odd actions repeatedly. There are endless examples, but one could be checking that the stove is turned off over and over, making leaving the house a giant ordeal. Another example could be washing your hands dozens or hundreds of times per day.
There aren’t a lot of treatments for OCD, but a weighted blanket can help ease the mind by giving the patient a feeling of stability while reducing stress.
The benefits of a weighted blanket for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are twofold:
- It can help with insomnia, especially in cases where the person is experiencing nightmares and flashbacks.
- It eases stress and anxiety. The deep pressure touch simulates a massage, and it can have a soothing, sedative effect.
A weighted blanket alone won’t cure bipolar disorder, but it can help with the symptoms. It does this by providing a sense of balance that could even out both manic and depressive episodes. Again, by regulating serotonin levels and easing stress, the effects of DPT may be beneficial.
Weighted blankets have been used in the autism community for years. One thing that’s known is that children with autism have lower serotonin levels than kids sampled from the general population. Since the deep pressure touch effect of the weighted fabric increases serotonin levels, it’s been shown to be incredibly helpful for kids and adults with autism.
Another reason this product is helpful is that it provides a sense of security. Often people with autism feel anxious and overly stimulated by their environment. This solution can help.
The muscle tension and anxiety associated with Tourette’s can also be helped by a material that provides the sensation of DPT. Since this condition is neurological, the balancing effect that this item has on the nervous system could be beneficial.
Patients with Alzheimer’s often feel anxious, agitated and have difficulty sleeping. The gravity blanket has been shown to help with all of these symptoms. By offering comfort to the patient, it can promote sleep and ease their nerves.
Weighted blankets are especially beneficial for patients with cerebral palsy. Here are some of the ways this product helps:
- Stimulates the proprioceptive nervous system, which is responsible for perceiving sensory stimuli
- Balances muscle tension
- Noticeable improvement in motor skills and posture
Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS is characterized by needing to move the legs due to pain or discomfort. For some, weighted bedding is helpful because it provides the therapeutic hugging effect. However, some people report that the last thing they want when they have Restless Leg Syndrome is extra weight on their legs.
In looking at numerous gravity blanket reviews, it seems that it’s a matter of preference whether someone finds this solution to be beneficial.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are weighted blankets effective for adults?
While many people have directly observed how well they work in children, they still wonder, “do weighted blankets work for adults?” The answer is yes. As long as it’s sufficiently weighted and has an even distribution of weights, then adults can also experience the benefits of having an all-natural sleep aid that also helps with anxiety reduction and stress relief.
Is it safe for babies and toddlers?
Yes, it’s safe, but we do have one caution. Make sure that the blanket isn’t too heavy or big. Children’s versions are often narrower than the items that are for adults. They should also be lighter. Keep in mind the rule that it should weigh 10 percent of the child’s weight plus a pound or two.
How to make a DIY type?
People love the idea of getting weighted blankets for sleep issues until they look at the price tag. At $100 to $200, they’re not cheap! You can make your own version at home if you’ve got the patience and you know how to sew.
To get the effect at home, you’ll need two soft blankets, some batting, plastic or glass pellets, and a sewing machine. You could probably do this project by hand as well, though it would take a lot more time.
Here are the steps to make a DIY weighted blanket for adults or kids:
- Start by laying the batting flat over two pieces of fabric, and then pin along the lines.
- Sew the batting onto the fabric layers.
- Flip it inside out so the fabric is on the outside and the batting is on the side. You should have a sack at this point.
- Sew horizontal lines across the top. You will probably want approximately five distinct rows.
- Begin pouring pellets into each of the rows. Make sure you allocate the pellets evenly.
- Map out evenly spaced pockets that run perpendicular to your original columns.
- Pin and sew each column individually, adding pellets one column at a time until you’re ready to close up the top of the blanket.
For a short video demonstrating this procedure, click here.
Are there safety instructions to follow?
Making sure the weight of the blanket isn’t too heavy is the most important rule to follow. Also, if the item is for a child, check to be sure that it’s not covering their face and that it’s not so heavy that they can’t move it themselves.
Between washes, monitor the stitching for any holes or pellets falling out as this can pose a choking hazard.
In a sea of endless gimmicks and fads, we were at first skeptical that a blanket with weights could work to relieve insomnia. But after reviewing the science and learning more about the benefits of deep pressure touch, we wish we had stumbled across this solution sooner.
Author: Sleep Advisor
Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.
Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.