Many people are just discovering that weighted blankets exist, but they've actually been around for a good long time. Until recently, they were used mainly by occupational therapists to help children with anxiety, autism, and sensory disorders. The idea is very similar to the lead vests that are placed on you when you’re at the dentist’s office, usually for the purpose of X-rays. The weight of the blanket provides deep touch pressure to your entire body which helps to regulate the central nervous system and promote calm and relaxation, and improves sleep. But do these blankets really work? And who actually needs one?
What is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like: blankets that are weighted! People drape the weighted blankets over their bodies when sitting or sleeping. The weight of the blanket depends on who will be using the blanket. The general rule of thumb is that a blanket should weigh about 7 - 12% percent of the person’s body weight plus one or two pounds. So, for a 4-year-old child who weighs 50 pounds, you’d want to buy about a seven-pound blanket. The most important consideration should be that, adult or child, whoever is laying under the blanket, can put it on themselves and take it off of themselves unassisted. If they can't, it is definitely too heavy.
The Science Behind Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets were created using the science of Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS) in mind. DPTS involves apply gentle pressure to the body in order to increase the release of serotonin, which is the hormone that helps you to relax and get to sleep. The body's nervous system responds in alarm to a light touch, but when pressure is applied over a large area in responds in the opposite way, by relaxing and lowering cortisol.
Children and adults with autism, as well as people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder have been found to be low in serotonin. With that idea in mind, the pressure applied by the application of a weighted blanked or weighted vest puts pressure on points of the body that help stimulate the release of serotonin and help to calm the nervous system and mind so that relaxation and sleep can happen more quickly.
The Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets have been found to help people in other areas besides sleep. They can:
- Calm the nervous system – Helps those with stress and anxiety and those who suffer from restlessness and even sleep walking during the night.
- Improve focus – Sleeping better at night can help those with focus issues to concentrate. Better sleep equals less brain fog.
- Reduce anxiety – Weighted blankets can be taken with you in the car or on a bus or plane to help inspire calm and security in everyday situations that can be difficult for those with anxiety.
- Reduce Depression - Weighted blankets can actually change brain chemistry, encouraging the body to release more serotonin. Those dealing with depression often have low serotonin levels, so a weighted blanket can be a very helpful tool to add to their treatment strategy.
Weighted blankets can be a simple and drug free path to better sleep and relaxation. Make sure you get the appropriate weight when buying one and then see if it helps you or your child to sleep better at night!