We see them a lot in social media or mainstream media shows. Weighted blankets have become a big hit nowadays, and many sellers and users are advertising its numerous health benefits. In particular, most campaigns show that weighted blankets help ease anxiety and depression.
But does it work? Are there scientific studies or empirical evidence to prove its acclaimed health benefits? How heavy should a weighted blanket be to prove its medical miracles?
One of the associated health features of a weighted blanket is its capacity for deep touch pressure (DTP). Deep touch pressure can significantly contribute to alleviating health stresses and lead to a night of better sleep.
Before we delve deeper into that, let’s first talk about what a weighted blanket is.
What You Should Know About Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets are throw-sized blankets containing weighted materials such as pellets, sands, pockets of beads, barley, rice, and other small round objects.
As the name suggests, weighted blankets carry extra weight; thus, they are heavier compared to regular blankets. Because of that, it gives a calming effect to users.
But what made it skyrocket in popularity is its role in healing anxiety and depression among both children and adults, including autism, insomnia, and leg restlessness syndrome. Occupational therapists have lately been recognizing that.
Weighted blankets don’t come cheap, however, because of their distinctive features. Some can cost hundreds of dollars, excluding the shipping fees added if you buy them online. Premium brands could fetch for a much higher rate.
How Does Weighted Blankets Work?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, weighted blankets induce deep touch pressure, also called deep pressure stimulation.
To better understand deep touch pressure, let’s imagine your best friend is hugging you very tightly. How would you feel? Loved? Relief? For sure, you would also feel relaxed and somewhat, the fears and worries you’re carrying dissipate.
In another instance, you felt heavy and stressed after working for hours straight. Then you head to a massage parlor. As a person massages you, you start to feel better and comfortable. Slowly, stress and tiredness disappear.
Or, let’s say you argued with your boss at work the other day. That is why you came to the office feeling heavy and burdened. You don’t want to see your boss and want to isolate yourself in your cubicle. Suddenly, a close colleague taps you gently at the back. Then, you felt at ease.
Now, all these instances portray how deep touch pressure works. It can take in many forms, including swaddling for babies.
When applied to the body, deep touch pressure reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone released in the body when you are stressed or tired. As the cortisol level decreases, the feel-good hormones of the body, namely, dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin, increases. It helps promote relaxation, regulate your mood, and signal your brain that it’s time to sleep or rest.
The increased levels of good hormones explain why you feel better when you experience deep touch pressure in whatever form.
Deep touch pressure also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, helping put our body into a calm state. Interestingly, it can make you feel relaxed instantly. That’s is in total contrast with the sympathetic nervous system, which leads the body into a “fight or flight” state. When you are afraid of someone following you, for instance, your sympathetic nervous system activates your defense mechanism, causing cortisol levels to rise.
Since the majority of us don’t have time for massages every day, and it’s not typical to be swaddled as an adult, using a weighted blanket makes a good choice. It gives you the deep pressure touch you need to feel relaxed.
The good thing about it? It’s all-natural in the sense that you don’t need to take in pills and medications to manage stress and anxiety. But take note, they are not necessarily the total answer to such problems. It’s still essential to consult clinical experts when you’re going through health problems.
What Do the Studies Say About Weighted Blankets and DTP?
Now that we’ve shown some of the health benefits of weighted blankets vis-a-vis deep touch pressure, let’s take a look at what scientific studies have to say. These studies focused on weighted vests. But they all boil down to the impact of deep touch pressure.
One study about deep touch pressure revealed that using a weighted vest reduces sympathetic arousal and non-stimulus-driven electrical occurrences. That means the weight from the vest created physiological reactions that helped calm the subjects of the study.
There are also some studies that identified whether weighted vests improve children’s focus or not, and participated by children with ADHD and autism. Based on the results, the weighted vests created positive results.
One of the studies showed that children with ADHD who wore a weighted vest improved 18-25 % in terms of on-task behavior. The children with autism also exhibited improved in-seat behavior while wearing a weighted vest. Take note, however, that there were moments where it didn’t work at first because the children were having with them.
In these studies, the researchers applied “Noncontingent Reinforcement (NRC).” Based on the context of a withdrawal approach, NCR showed an optimal effect on the subjects’ in-seat behavior. To make it simpler, NRC means that the researchers used the vests long enough to where the subjects stopped acting out to have them. As the children became more comfortable using them, the researchers could better assess how the weighted vests impacted their in-seat behavior.
Another 2011 study revealed that children with ADHD who wore a weighted vest improved their attention-to-task, task completion, and in-seat behavior.
A study in 2001 also examined how preschoolers struggling with pervasive developmental disorders reacted to weighted vests. Based on the results, the children became less easily distracted and had shown increased focus.
In 2004, a group of occupational therapists surveyed the use of weighted vests. They came up with the following statement:
“Though the researchers noticed slightly different behavioral changes in children with numerous developmental disorders when these children used weighted vests, their practice patterns in using the vests showed similarities across conditions. Increased attention and focus on the task were the most common behavioral changes shown.”
While most of these studies were conducted in the previous years, the growing number of people using weighted blankets testifies to the effectivity of deep touch pressure. So if you’re struggling with related conditions, try using one. Who knows? It could be your cure for a lifetime.