Weighted blankets or therapy blankets were originally designed for kids with autism spectrum conditions, but they are a godsend for anyone who needs a little help getting to sleep and staying asleep.
A weighted blanket makes sense when we think about baby swaddling. Parents have known for centuries about the effect of tightly wrapping a baby in swaddling cloth to soothe them and help them stay asleep.
How do weighted blankets work to calm the nervous system?
Deep pressure stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system also known as the rest regenerate and relax part of the autonomic nervous system.
The nervous system modulates all of your bodily functions; digestion, blood pressure, breathing, fluid balance, etc.
A weighted blanket can mimic deep pressure stimulation, hugging, and help the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, to reduce arousal, and cause relaxation.
There have been a few studies that show weighted blankets help to increased sleep time and reduce movement. Most studies use self-reported data from participants rather than collected data, so we still have a lot to learn.
The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight response that helps us stay safe and alert to danger. This is an important response to have. But we have this ancient protective system that we carry around with us in a suddenly modern world.
Our natural protective reaction is overstimulated all day long by our modern lifestyle. But we are only beginning to developing ways to calm ourselves down. Sleep problems like poor sleep, fitful sleep, and insomnia are at record highs as we spend more of our time relating to technology and less time in nature.
Why are weighted blankets so popular?
Weighted blankets have only recently become popular with adults, teenagers, and kids who don’t have neurological or behavioral problems.
But these days just about everyone needs all the help we can get with sleeping well. The right all-natural pillow along with a weighted blanket can really help you get a good nights’ sleep.
It is considered lazy to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep these days. People compete to see who is more overwhelmed and busy. We wear our stress as a badge of honor.
Origins of the first weighted blanket therapy
Weighted blankets were first used in sensory integration therapy to help people with autism to process sensory stimulation.
Temple Grandon, the autistic writer describes in her book how she made herself a “hugging device” in her dorm room that put pressure on her body to calm herself while she was in college. Her machine was thrown in the garbage after her roommate complained about it.
But Grandin helped initiate the study of deep touch stimulation by conducting a study on fellow students. She was allowed to keep her device once her study findings showed that the device helped relax the muscles and decrease heart rate.
Deep pressure stimulation can help calm a person with an overstimulated or over-sensitive nervous system.
Pressure can help soothe the nervous system in a similar way that massage or exercise help. When you move under a weighted blanket the heavy beads can simulate a soothing caress.
In studies with kids who were hyperactive weighted blankets helped them get to sleep faster and wake less often at night.
With weighted blanket studies for insomnia, people slept longer and moved around less under a weighted blanket.
In mood disorders, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, weighted blankets have shown some benefits for relief.
With people who suffer from sensory defensiveness, and sensory overload the sympathetic nervous system is revved up. So weighted blankets may help people with these types of issues.
Physical therapists often use weighted vests and weighted blankets with patients with ADHD because it helps them to sit still longer and focus on a project for a longer duration.
What to look for in a weighted blanket
Weighted blankets can get hot if they are made with low-grade materials. Polyester batting can be rigid and uncomfortable so look for natural cotton or a blend of natural and synthetic material, hemp or bamboo materials for batting and covers.
In general, you get what you pay for so it is often better to spend a little more money on something that will be effective.
Some blankets have an unbreathable film applied to the fabric to keep the beads from breaking through the stitching. Look for a sheen on the surface of the blanket to tell if it has been treated with some kind of plastic coating.
When you get your weighted blanket you can test it by blowing air through it and seeing if air escapes. If air is trapped you are probably going to sleep too hot and wake up at night. Sleeping hot can make you wake up before you are rested defeating the purpose of your weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets have a grid construction filled with little weighted beads made of glass or polyester pellets.
The size of the grid on your blanket is important. If the grid is too large the weighted balls will slip around and not give your body maximum swaddling. Smaller grids help distribute the beads more evenly, so they work better than larger grids.
Batting is important for trapping the balls to keep them from sliding down when you sleep on your side. The batting can help to spread the balls to keep the weighted balls distributed evenly too. The batting also helps muffle any noise from the beads hitting each other when you move around at night.
So look for a blanket with a smaller grid size and high-quality breathable materials, and if you want durability a higher price range might be a better choice in the long run. The beads can wear through cheaper fabrics.
What size do you need and how much should it weight?
You probably do not need a queen-sized blanket if it is just for one person. You can make do with a twin blanket. A weighted blanket should be around 10 percent of your body weight. You don’t want to get something that is too heavy because this can cause discomfort or anxiety. Feeling trapped is not the goal here!
Do not use weighted blankets with infants or small children or elderly or people who may get stuck under them.
The perfect pillow to go with your weighted blanket
If you like a firm but adjustable pillow you will love our original organic buckwheat pillow. Our pillow comes with a soft bamboo pillowcase. If you want a softer pillow try one of our handmade millet pillows. Our newest latex pillow is made with unique latexstix that you won’t find anywhere else.