Mental Health Benefits of Weighted Blankets

Also known as gravity blankets, weighted blankets have been around since 1999. These heavy blankets were used by the Occupational Therapy and Mental Health community to treat conditions such as anxiety and sensory processing disorders.

In the last few years they’ve made their way onto the mainstream market and notable brands have a rating of 4.5/5 stars, providing that thousands of people across the country love incorporating the product into their lives.

How do they work?

The blankets contain polypropylene beads sewn into pockets throughout the blanket to equally distribute weight.

The pressure of the weighted blankets triggers the production and release of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that contributes to feelings of well-being, safety, and happiness. It’s actually much more complex than that – serotonin also plays a part in cognition, reward, memory, and other mental functions.

Low levels of serotonin often result in emotional numbness, depression, and anxiety. A lack of the chemical has been linked to a score of health conditions including fibromyalgia, dementia, autism, and OCD to name just a few.

What do they treat?

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Sensory Processing Disorders
  • PTSD
  • Night Terrors
  • SPD
  • Restless Leg Syndrome

Anxiety is a broad term, and it can encompass day-to-day stress, trouble sleeping, or chronic anxiety that interrupts an individual’s life in a big way. It also has some involvement in many of the conditions listed above. Other issues that people who swear by gravity blankets face involve the neurological system dysfunctioning.

The trick to weighted blankets is that they simulate deep pressure touch. This is also a broad term – it can be attached to intentional massage, hugs, or even swaddling. Deep pressure touch increases serotonin and dopamine levels while reducing cortisol, which our bodies release when stressed.

Cortisol can be harmful when released frequently and damages brain cells with prolonged exposure. Long-term, it can even affect memory, as it attacks the hippocampus.

When anxious the body often simulated the “fight or flight” response, often without need. Weighted blankets calm the nervous system and reverse this reaction.

It’s this calming effect that has medical practitioners touting the benefits of gravity blankets when it comes to disorders involving anxiety. However, there is some controversy behind how effective the blankets actually are, as little research has been done – and the research that has, doesn’t look too promising.

Research Outcome

There has been no definitive research on weighted blankets successfully treating anxiety disorders. In some cases children and adults have preferred “regular” blankets; this might be because not everyone enjoys a heavy weight on their body.

A study done on a group of 73 young people tracked sleep improvements when using the blankets, and there was no significant change according to sleep testing and parent diaries.

The field of weighted and gravity blanket use in therapeutic settings needs to be researched further before scientists can make a definitive conclusion; but for now, customers seem to be singing the praises of the products as they’ve reached the mainstream market.

Other Uses

Outside of therapy settings, weighted blankets have been used by those with sleep issues (including insomnia and ADHD). Currently 68% of Americans have trouble getting to sleep at night during the week. One study stated that weighted blankets may work because of the pressure providing a cocooning sensation, and mimicking the feel of a caress when individuals shift in sleep.

They’re also an attractive object for those living in colder climates. It hasn’t hard to understand why some people might prefer the use of weighted blankets in Canada, the North Eastern United States, and other countries with long winter months.

Buyer’s Guide

Studies have shown that the preferred weight of a blanket is about 10% of your current body weight, although personal preference will have an effect on this as well. Blankets on the market range in weight from 15-30lbs.

*Keep in mind that the use of weighted/gravity blankets with small children needs to be researched and carefully monitored. There have been hazardous incidents, including two deaths related to the misuse of the blankets, reported.

Do your research when it comes to brands and pricing. Generally, blankets can be anywhere from $50 – $300.

There are a variety of options when it comes to material as well – blankets come in plush, polyester, and everything in between.

This is important to take into consideration because washing gravity blankets can be a pain. It’s best to wash with cold water and let the blanket air dry. If you do choose to dry it by machine, make sure you’re only using the tumble dry on low heat – anything else will damage your dryer. Unfortunately, washing often will decrease the durability of your blanket.

There are plenty of sites selling weighted blankets and you can decide which one is best for you based on pricing and customer reviews. Whatever you’re looking to get out of gravity and weighted blankets, do your research to find out which one will fit your specific needs.

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