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Do Weighted Blankets Help with ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects about 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17. Experts estimate that about 60 percent of children with ADHD carry the disorder into adulthood, which means that around 4 percent of the adult population suffers from ADHD.

Although medication might help people with ADHD manage their symptoms, there are also natural, non-pharmaceutical ways to ease ADHD. Using a weighted blanket for ADHD is just one method for helping sufferers self-soothe.

Here’s everything you need to know!

Using a Weighted Blanket for ADHD: An ADHD Explainer

person suffering from adhd sitting on the floor

If you have ADHD, or you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, you are likely already quite familiar with the symptoms and challenges of the disorder. However, ADHD is often viewed as something of a mystery to non-sufferers. Worse, some people mistakenly believe that people with ADHD simply need to “calm down” or just eliminate distractions. For parents of children with ADHD, hearing that you “just need to parent better” can be incredibly painful.

This is why education and information are so critical for dispelling myths about ADHD. When people truly understand ADHD, they quickly realize just how disruptive the symptoms can be for kids and adults alike.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines ADHD as “a condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, or a combination.” The symptoms of ADHD vary by individual and can include restlessness, the inability to focus, difficulty recalling details and challenges when it comes to completing tasks. While ADHD and sensory processing disorder are actually different disorders, there can be overlap between them.

In the past, researchers believed that ADHD was primarily a behavior disorder. Today, that has changed. As Dr. Thomas E. Brown, associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, told ADDitude magazine, breakthroughs in neuroscience, clinical research and brain imaging technology have changed the way the medical community views ADHD. “We now understand that ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system, its executive function…”

ADHD is also closely associated with mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, the ADAA reports that around 50 percent of adult ADHD sufferers also have an anxiety disorder.   

There are actually two different types of ADHD — and sufferers can have one variation or a combination of both. The “hyperactive-impulsive” subtype makes individuals act “as if driven by a motor.” They might squirm, move about quickly and even interrupt others during conversation. The other subtype, known as the “inattentive” subtype, tends to make people lose focus easily. They might have difficulty keeping track of homework assignments or conversations. Folks in this subtype are often characterized as “daydreamers.”

The Three Common Characteristics of ADHD  

According to mental health experts, having ADHD means a lot more than just feeling hyper or fidgety. Dr. William Dodson of ADDitude Magazine states that the three most powerful characteristics of ADHD include an interest-based nervous system, emotional hyperarousal and rejection sensitivity. Unless you’ve had ADHD for some time, these three characteristics may be news to you. Fortunately, Dr. Dodson breaks them down further.

  • Interest-based Nervous System - Dr. Dodson explains that “attention deficit” is a bit of a misnomer, as ADHD doesn’t really rob someone of their ability to pay attention. Rather, it causes “inconsistent attention.” In fact, people with ADHD have the ability to focus intensely on subjects that interest them, but sometimes only for short periods of time. They can also have difficulty prioritizing their interests.  
  • Emotional Hyperarousal - Emotional hyperarousal refers to feelings of tenseness or an inability to “turn off the brain.” This state of being may not exhibit any outward symptoms. Instead, the person may only feel this way on the inside. 

    According to Dr. Dodson, people with emotional hyperarousal have high highs and low lows because they feel emotions so intensely. Folks with this symptom of ADHD also frequently have a hard time falling asleep at night. Their body may be tired, but their brain is ready to run laps around the track. 
  • Rejection Sensitivity - Like the name suggests, rejection sensitivity is an extreme, intense vulnerability to being rejected. In this context, rejection can come in the form of teasing, criticism and even things like a performance review at work.

    Dr. Dodson states that rejection sensitivity is typically based on perception rather than reality. In other words, the person with ADHD may feel the rejection more acutely than it was intended.

If you suffer from ADHD, you may have tried any number of interventions to help manage your symptoms.

Doctors and therapists treat ADHD in a number of ways, including prescription medication, cognitive-behavior therapy and occupational therapy. There are also many natural and drug-free calming tools that may help people with ADHD self-soothe — including using a weighted blanket for ADHD.

5 Natural Ways to Self-Soothe

ADHD kids painting

As the ADAA notes, medication is sometimes an effective way to manage the symptoms of ADHD. However, many sufferers dislike the side effects of prescription medication. Other people do quite well on medication, but also like to incorporate more natural self-soothing techniques. There is no single correct way to manage ADHD, and it’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor or occupational therapist before beginning any treatment or therapy regimen.

If you’re interested in natural ways to manage your ADHD symptoms, there are several techniques to try. If you also suffer from anxiety, these methods may work double duty by helping you be more calm, focused and relaxed. As a bonus, you might even sleep better at night.

Take a Close Look at Your Diet

You’ve probably heard you are what you eat. As annoying as it can be to hear this old saying over the holidays, or just as you’re about to dig into your favorite gallon of ice cream, there is definitely something to be said for keeping a close eye on your diet.

It’s especially important for children and adults who suffer from ADHD to be mindful of what they eat. Much has been written about a possible connection between ADHD and certain foods, food additives and types of dyes. According to Harvard Medical School, “Diet alone probably isn’t the driving force behind the multiple behavioral and cognitive symptoms that plague children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But several studies have renewed interest in whether certain foods and additives might affect particular symptoms in a subset of children with ADHD.”

Specifically, researchers note that certain artificial dyes may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Also, studies have shown a possible link between the severity of ADHD symptoms and a diet with too little Omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for basic cell function. Avoiding certain artificial dyes while increasing the intake of Omega-3 supplements may help reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms.  

Check Out Yoga or Meditation

Yoga has a number of benefits, including better posture, weight loss and improved mental health. According to research conducted by ISRN Pediatrics, children who practiced yoga performed better in school, which suggests a connection between yoga and improved concentration and focus.

In the study, which consisted of 69 students with ADHD, children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old participated in a yoga program twice a week. Researchers found that “the [program] resulted in remarkable improvements in the students’ school performances that were sustained throughout the year.”

If you’d like to introduce yoga in your child’s weekly routine (or your own), you can find a wealth of useful resources online. Do Yoga with Me offers free classes. For the little yoga lover in your life, Cosmic Kids Yoga features kid-oriented yoga classes with fun backgrounds and adventure themes. Your local library is also a good place to find beginner videos.     

Explore the Great Outdoors

If you’re of a certain age, you probably spent your summers on a bicycle and rarely saw the inside of your house. Parenting has changed a bit since then, but there is still something to be said for getting kids off their handheld devices and out on the front lawn.

And it’s not just grandmothers who say this. Researchers in a 2011 study examined whether exposure to green spaces could help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD in children. According to a summary of the study, “Findings suggest that everyday play settings make a difference in overall symptom severity in children with ADHD. Specifically, children with ADHD who play regularly in green play settings have milder symptoms than children who play in built outdoor and indoor settings.”  

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

We all know we need to brush our teeth and wash our hands — all good hygiene practices that keep us healthy. But did you know that sleep hygiene should also be part of your everyday routine? In fact, it may be just as important as good dental health and regular doctor visits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. As a nation, we are woefully sleep-deprived. And it’s not just adults who aren’t sleeping enough. Research reveals that over 87 percent of high school students don’t get adequate rest.

For ADHD sufferers, sleep-deprivation can lead to more severe symptoms. Madeline R. Vann, MPH, at Everyday Health writes, “In many cases, creating a consistent sleep schedule and environment can help [people with ADHD].”

Tips for improving your sleep hygiene include:

  • Establish a Bedtime Routine - Whether it’s a nightly bath and bedtime story or light stretching and a cup of tea, doing the same routine every night signals your body and brain that it’s time to sleep.
  • Turn Off Devices - About an hour before bed, turn off all sources of blue light and electronic noise. This means shutting off the television, as well as your phones, tablets and video games. 
  • Rise and Shine Quietly - Most alarm clocks make you want to toss them out the window rather than spring out of bed, ready to face another day. Invest in an alarm or app that wakes you with gentle, progressive sound. For kids, you can also try opening their blinds or playing soft music that allows them to wake slowly.

However you choose to build your bedtime ritual, experts say that consistency is key. 

Try a Weighted Blanket

Because weighted blankets have been a staple in the autism community for years, many people wonder if weighted blankets can also help with ADHD. Research has shown that firm but gentle pressure not only helps alleviate the symptoms of autism — it delivers benefits for a host of health conditions, including ADHD and anxiety.  

Weighted blankets, which create the effects of deep pressure touch stimulation — a form of therapy often used to treat the symptoms of autism and ADHD — may help people with ADHD self-soothe, feel calmer and sleep better.

dog under blanket

Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation: How Weighted Blankets Might Help ADHD

Deep pressure touch stimulation is a type of massage therapy that involves the application of firm but gentle squeezing and pressure on the body. Research shows that it relaxes the central nervous system and promotes the release of serotonin, a natural chemical in the body that results in calm, relaxation and an overall feeling of peace and well-being.

Therapists who use deep pressure touch stimulation have observed a number of benefits in their patients, including better sleep, improved focus, increased happiness, reduced hypersensitivity to touch and general calmness. Additionally, research has shown that weighted blankets lower levels of anxiety, reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure.

When you consider the symptoms of ADHD, it’s easy to see how increased serotonin may make a difference when it comes to symptom management. Because not everyone can make it to the massage or occupational therapist on a regular basis, wouldn’t it be nice to have access to deep pressure touch stimulation at home? The good news is you can! A weighted blanket for ADHD can provide the same firm but gentle pressure as deep touch pressure stimulation. At Luna, we like to describe it as a full body hug.    

The Benefits of Serotonin

Serotonin is much more than a “feel good” chemical. It’s a neurotransmitter that packs a big punch when it comes to everything from regulating sleep and improving skin to fighting back against anxiety and migraines.  

Improved Mood

According to a 2016 study in the journal Nutrients, low serotonin can cause changes in mood that can lead to depression. And when serotonin levels are quite low, researchers have found that people can actually experience negative cognitive effects that include memory loss and problems with speech.  

“In addition, depleted serotonin causes cognitive impairments, with reports including deficits in verbal reasoning, episodic, and working memory, while conversely, tryptophan [a precursor chemical to serotonin] supplementation has positive effects on attention and memory. Interestingly, emotional processing, the modification of memory that underlies emotion, is inhibited in subjects with depression, or has a high-risk to develop, after tryptophan depletion.”

Banishing Insomnia

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, a serotonin imbalance could be the culprit or at least a contributing factor. The sleep cycle is part of a much larger system in the body, and serotonin is at the heart of it.

As WebMD states, “[S]erotonin helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. Because of the widespread distribution of its cells, it is believed to influence a variety of psychological and other body functions. Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.”

Anxiety Buster

Studies have linked serotonin receptors to mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Specifically, researchers have found that people who are genetically predisposed to process serotonin inefficiently have a higher risk of developing a mood disorder like anxiety.

Because weighted blankets use deep pressure touch stimulation, they increase serotonin production, which may help stabilize the user’s mood. This can lead to reduced anxiety and better sleep.  

Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.