Just about everyone has heard of massage therapy, but did you know there's a similar form of therapy you can do at home — and without begging your spouse to roll up their sleeves?
Deep pressure touch stimulation is like a full-on hug for your body, and you can get the benefits by using a weighted blanket. We explain why it works, and how you can order your weighted blanket today.
How the Body Processes Information
In school, you were probably taught that we take in information through the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. But did you know there are actually eight ways we process the world around us? In addition to the five senses, humans take in information through the vestibular system, physiological indicators and the body’s musculoskeletal system.
Vestibular Input - The vestibular system gives us our sense of balance, and it’s regulated by the inner ear. When the system is damaged or doesn’t function properly, people can experience a sense of disorientation.
Interoceptive Input - Interoception refers to a person’s ability to sense and address internal bodily sensations.
Proprioceptive Input - Proprioception is how a person uses their muscles and body to sense their body’s position in the world around them. It’s a bit of a subtle thing, but it’s easy to understand once you grasp it. A good example is the way your leg feels after it has fallen asleep.
When you attempt to stand up, you suddenly have no idea how to position your leg because you can no longer feel it. People who experience difficulties with proprioception can feel this way all the time, which can be unsettling and uncomfortable.
All of these senses are supposed to work in tandem to help a person move through the world. In some people, however, signals and data make their way into the brain, only to end up jumbled or jammed. In fact, researchers sometimes describe it as a sensory “traffic jam.” This is what happens when someone has a sensory processing disorder.
In other people, anxiety can interfere with the body’s physiological ability to process information. When constant worry and stress make your heart race, it can be hard to concentrate, relax or even fall asleep. The body is a complex machine with many moving parts. When you can’t fully process the world around you, it can affect just about every part of your life.
How the Body Responds to Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation
When you think about how it takes eight different sensory abilities to correctly process information, it’s easy to see how even a slight imbalance can make a big difference. This is where deep pressure touch stimulation therapy might work for you.
“Deep pressure touch stimulation therapy” is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s actually quite easy to understand. Harvard researchers and others have found that firm, gentle and consistent pressure on the body can make people with autism and sensory processing disorder feel calmer, more relaxed and less anxious.
In fact, you may have already experienced the benefits of deep pressure touch without even realizing it. Think about the last time you snuggled under a heavy blanket or down comforter. You might have felt deeply relaxed — maybe even pleasantly drowsy. Your eyelids get heavy, your heart rate slows down and your whole body relaxes.
This is deep pressure touch stimulation at work, and studies have shown it can affect both the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system in positive ways.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The body’s parasympathetic nervous system is in charge of regulating body functions when we’re at rest. It helps us digest food, produce tears and slow our heart rates after activity. It also works in complement with the sympathetic nervous system.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
If the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge of the body when we’re at rest, the sympathetic nervous system springs into action when we’re on the go. It speeds up the heart rate, widens the pupils and activates the fight or flight response when the brain perceives danger or a need to protect the body. If you’ve ever been driving down the highway and narrowly missed getting hit by another car, you have your sympathetic nervous system to thank for your pounding heart, sweaty palms and spikes of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone).
In short bursts, this fight or flight response is valuable and important. It gives your body the tools it needs to get out of danger as quickly as possible. When you have anxiety, however, your sympathetic nervous system works overtime.
Ideally, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are partners that work together to regulate the body’s various systems. However, anxiety, sensory processing disorder and other conditions can cause imbalances.
Deep pressure touch stimulation helps regulate these systems by helping the body produce “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. When the body produces cortisol in response to anxiety, dopamine and serotonin can counter it by slowing the heart rate and making the individual feel more relaxed.
Could Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation Therapy Work for You?
So how did researchers figure all this out? How does pressing, squeezing and hugging the body make the brain produce dopamine and serotonin? As it turns out, there’s a lot of science behind deep pressure touch stimulation and weighted blankets.
Much of the research can be credited to Dr. Temple Grandin, a prominent autism researcher who is herself on the autism spectrum. As her research explains, she first got the idea for a squeezing or hugging device by observing cows being led into gentle squeezing machines to receive their vaccinations. When the cows were pressed between the sides of the machine, they became calmer and more relaxed.
Dr. Grandin thought there might be more to this, as she recalled craving hugs as a child but being unable to tolerate being held. What if, she wondered, she could control the pressure? This prompted her to create a squeeze (or hug) machine for people. In experiments, she and other researchers observed that study participants felt calmer, more relaxed and less anxious.
Studies that use weighted blankets to deliver deep pressure have found similar results. In a 2008 study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, researchers found that 63 percent of participants exhibited positive changes in the physiological symptoms of anxiety. These changes included lower heart rates, better pulse oximetry and reduced blood pressure. In addition, 78 percent of people in the study said they preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering, researchers reported that study subjects who used a weighted blanket had lower anxiety and experienced better sleep. “For patients with high levels of anxiety or [physiological] arousal, [deep pressure touch stimulation] intervention acts as a calming or focusing agent to increase activity in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.”
Weighted blankets and deep pressure touch may help with a broad range of health concerns. We’ve covered a lot of them right here on our blog. Here are some places to get more information:
- Why You Need a Weighted Blanket?
- 6 Ways Weighted Blankets Help Women
- What Is a Weighted Blanket Used For?
- 6 Weighted Blanket Benefits for the Elderly
- What Is a Stress Blanket — and How Can They Help You
- What Do Weighted Blankets Do?
Weighted Blankets for Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation
Squeeze and hug machines are used in hospitals and occupational therapists’ offices all over the country, but they are very expensive and most definitely not portable. Fortunately, studies show that weighted blankets deliver the benefits of deep pressure touch stimulation without a bulky or pricey piece of therapy or hospital equipment.
At Luna, we make weighted blankets as well as a wide variety of similar items that help people enjoy the benefits of deep pressure touch stimulation at home, in the car or pretty much anywhere.