Weighted blankets have only really gained notable popularity in the last few years, and many people are still in the dark about what, exactly, they are and what they purport to do. In essence, they are throw-sized blankets that are filled with relatively heavy materials.
The feeling of sleeping with a weighted pressure on your body can cause a calming effect, which in turn results in a better, deeper sleep. Weighted blankets use the principles of Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) or Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) to improve the quality of relaxation and sleep at night. They come in various weights and sizes and can be used by people of all ages to increase relaxation at night.
How They Work
The rate of our heartbeat increases far above normal when we experience stress, which contributes to the overall feeling of anxiety and discomfort. It is important to lower your heart rate when this happens, as doing so will induce a sense of calmness which can help us get a better night’s sleep.
One way to calm ourselves when we are experiencing stress is by using pressure. Pressure activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us as it lowers the rate of our heartbeat when we are experiencing stress. This is the main principle of ‘pressure therapy’ that makes up a weighted blanket.
Here are some ways that weighted blankets help us sleep:
If you toss and turn at night and struggle to get good sleep, you share an experience with about 20 million Americans that struggle to get sleep on occasion. Moreover, over 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic sleep disorders in the long-term.
While stress and anxiety can make an existing sleep problem worse, or lead to the development of a sleeping disorder, you don’t need to have a disorder for it to affect the quality of your sleep. Anticipation is one of the main factors that causes restless sleep – either over an exciting event that’s happening the next day, or a nerve-wracking presentation that you have to give.
Anticipation causes a level of anxiety, which, as you know, increases the heart rate. Weighted blankets combat this by applying ‘pressure therapy’, which calms your breathing and heart rate. This sense of calm can promote tiredness and much better quality sleep.
Anxiety is a natural part of the human experience, and we all experience it at some point in our lives. It is described as a feeling of worry and uneasiness, and is usually caused by the anticipation of events that are to take place in the future.
Those with anxiety disorders do not experience anxiety occasionally, but rather, all the time, and it often disrupts daily living. These people experience excessive stress due to daily activities, and it makes their body feel as though they are constantly in a stress-inducing environment.
Our autonomic nervous system – which is in charge of controlling simple bodily functions, such as breathing, shivering, sweating, and digesting – is responsible for preparing the body for rest or stress. We often refer to this as the fight or flight response.
In the same way that they ease the parasympathetic nervous system, weighted blankets are capable of calming the autonomic nervous system, and putting it into a state of rest. As a result, the feeling of anxiety is reduced, as well as its symptoms, such as hyperventilation and increased heart rate.
The Benefits of Using a Weighted Blanket
There are a number of benefits that sleeping with a weighted blanket can provide, more than just providing us with a restful night of sleep. Here are a few of them:
Alleviating Restless Leg Syndrome
Patients who struggle with restless leg syndrome often report a creeping or tingling sensation in the legs that seems to worsen when lying down in a bed. This can contribute to other sleep disorders, light insomnia, and the constant urge to move the legs can be an issue when traveling long distances in a plane or car.
People that have restless leg syndrome generally use compression socks to treat it, but weighted blankets can do the job just as well, if not better, thanks to the weighted sensation that they provide.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory problems are caused by brain signals becoming ‘jammed’, which can lead to anxiety attacks. Children that have autism have similar symptoms to those who suffer from anxiety disorders, and both are susceptible to behavioral and emotional stress.
Having a child with autism sleep with a weighted blanket can help them feel more calm when they go to bed, which results in a restful sleep for them. The same is true for those that struggle with anxiety, as a weighted blanket can simulate the feeling of being held and hugged in your sleep, reducing stress and inducing calmness.
Support for the Elderly
The elderly can also find some use out of weighted blankets. As we age, or sleep cycles change as well, and things like chronic pain can disrupt them further. Weighted blankets can help elderly people with insomnia sleep better at night.