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Weighted Blanket, A closer look

by Jomel Bajar, PT,DPT,MS

Some of you might have seen weighted blankets in the mall or specialty sleep stores before or prior to the pandemic. Have you ever wondered why it was manufactured in the first place?

If you are having anxious thoughts just before you go to bed, most likely you won’t be able to sleep. Trying to sleep with anxiety is a vicious cycle. It all starts with a thought then it spirals down to another thought and before you know it, it is already 5 am in the morning and you still haven’t slept. If this is a problem that you are experiencing lately, then maybe a weighted blanket is something that you could try. Weighted blankets are recently gaining attention for its ability to improve sleep and alleviate stress. In case you are not familiar with them, weighted blankets are therapeutic blankets that are heavier than your average comforter. They weigh between 4 to 30 pounds and have been used in physical therapy for a long time.

According to several studies, weighted blankets, also known as gravity blankets, simulate the effect of a deep pressure stimulation technique which uses the idea of using firm and gentle pressure on the body to make people feel calmer, relaxed and less anxious. According to Temple Grandin, an autism researcher, the application of constant gentle pressure on the body triggers the release of oxytocin which is a happiness chemical. Besides giving out a calming effect on the body, pressure from the weight of the weighted blanket activates your parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes you and helps slow down your heart rate.

Weighted blankets provide a cocoon-like and reassuring feeling. That is why most of the time, people associate weighted blankets to being like hugs because they give a similar feeling. Dr. Grandin pointed out that being wrapped in a weighted blanket may remind you of a feeling of security when you are being hugged. Although nothing can beat the power of a good hug, weighted blankets can do the job of making you feel relaxed and secure enough to sleep. At night, when you are at your most tired and unguarded self, is when your anxious thoughts arise. Having anxious thoughts at night increases levels of cortisol in your brain which is a stress hormone. Studies show that high cortisol levels can impact your immune system negatively. Besides the fact that it keeps you from getting enough sleep, high levels of cortisol can also cause depression, anxiety and weight gain. Weighted blankets can help combat these complications by prompting the release of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in your brain which are feel-good hormones that fight anxiety, stress and depression. Deep pressure stimulation simulated by weighted blankets also reduces autonomic arousal which is responsible for symptoms of anxiety and the increasing heart rate levels.

Although weighted blankets are marketed to help people at any age, there are still people who are advised not to obtain them. For people who have chronic health conditions, are going through menopause , and are experiencing circulation and respiration issues, weighted blankets can do more harm to them than good. This is why in trying new things and techniques for your health , it is better to consult your doctor first before you try them like acquiring your own weighted blanket. It is not that weighted blankets are bad for your health. It is just that people are structured differently that weighted blankets may not be suitable for them. If you are not experiencing any of these complications and are interested in buying your own, weighted blanket manufacturers recommend that you should get a weighted blanket that is suitable for your weight. For adults, weighted blanket manufacturers recommend them to buy a blanket that is 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. For children, they said that they should get blankets that are 10 percent of their body weight. Weighted blanket manufacturers also recommend that you should get a weighted blanket that is made of natural fibers. In buying your own weighted blanket, it is important to keep these guidelines in mind because it is also for your own good and better comfort.

On paper, not being able to sleep because of your racing thoughts is not big compared to the problems of the world. But to people who have anxiety and are struggling to sleep, negative effect to their health happens. If you are one of these people, you might want to consider getting a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets have been proven to reduce anxiety and alleviate insomnia.

At the end of the day, weighted blankets are just one of the many things that you can try to manage anxiety. It will not cure your anxiety a hundred percent but it may at least help you cope and give you a good night’s sleep.

Further Reading:

Eleesha Lockett,MS. “Weighted Blankets: Do they work?

Corey Whelan. “Why you should use a weighted blanket for Anxiety

Do Weighted Blankets Really Work?

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