Weighted blankets are perhaps most commonly known as a therapy tool for sensory processing disorder, autism, and ADHD. However, research shows that weighted blankets may provide relief for a variety of health conditions.
Here is a comprehensive guide to how weighted blankets work, what they might be able to treat, and all the ways a weighted blanket might help you feel calmer, sleep easier and experience less anxiety.
What Science Says About Weighted Blankets
Well known among occupational therapists and autism researchers for decades, weighted blankets have gone mainstream in recent years. Even if you’ve never heard of a weighted blanket, there’s a good chance you’ve already experienced what they can do.
For example, have you ever drifted off to sleep under the weight of a heavy down comforter? Or maybe you enjoy it when the dental assistant puts that heavy x-ray shield over your torso, but you’ve never really been able to figure out why. The peaceful, soothing sensations you feel in these scenarios happen for a reason — a type of therapy called deep touch pressure stimulation.
Deep touch pressure stimulation is like a massage, but it involves mostly deep, firm pressure and squeezing on various parts of the body. Research shows that this type of gentle pressure prompts the body to release serotonin, the “feel good” chemical in the brain.
When researchers study deep touch pressure and weighted blankets, they find that people feel calmer and more relaxed under the weight of a weighted blanket, lap pad or wrap. For example, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders found that “a weighted blanket may aid in reducing insomnia through altered tactile inputs, thus may provide an innovative, non-pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality.”
Another study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health revealed that participants who used weighted blankets had lower blood pressure, pulse rates and pulse oximetry — all signs of reduced stress levels. Participants also said they felt less stressed, with 63 percent reporting lower levels of anxiety and 78 percent saying they “preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.”
As these studies show, weighted blankets reduce anxiety, including the physiological manifestations of anxiety, such as high blood pressure and a rapid pulse rate.
But what else can weighted blankets do? As it turns out, weighted blankets may help with a broad range of health conditions.
What Are Weighted Blankets Used For?
Weighted blankets, in general, are used to help provide a calming sensation for the user. While the science behind it is a little more technical than that — and there are a bunch of conditions that might benefit from them — that’s the short version.
Here’s the long version:
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Weighted blankets are perhaps most closely associated with treatment for autism spectrum disorder. Years ago, prominent autism researcher (and herself a person on the spectrum) Dr. Temple Grandin modeled a “squeeze machine” on a device she’d seen used on cattle receiving vaccinations. Dr. Grandin noted how the cows become calm when gently squeezed or “hugged” in the machine.
This gave Dr. Grandin an idea. What if she built a similar device for people? Would it help alleviate the symptoms of autism? Her instincts proved correct. When she studied the squeeze machine’s effect on individuals with autism, she observed that users felt more relaxed, less anxious and more receptive to touch.
Weighted blankets use the same techniques of a squeeze machine, but at a much more affordable price — and in a smaller, easier to transport product.
You can read more about finding the right weighted blanket for autism here.
Attention-deficit disorder affects about 6.4 million kids and around 4 percent of adults. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) points out, ADHD doesn’t look the same for everyone.
In some people, for example, ADHD manifests as hyperactivity, while other people with ADHD struggle with impulse control. Some people have a combination of these symptoms, while others have difficulty prioritizing tasks. It’s also quite common for people with ADHD to hyperfocus on a task, experiencing a huge burst of productivity that leaves them feeling exhausted and unable to focus afterward.
The bottom line is that ADHD isn’t something you can simply turn off. It’s always there, and it can seriously interfere with schoolwork, a person’s career and the way they interact with friends and loved ones. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that many people with ADHD also experience anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, a weighted blanket may help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. Deep touch pressure stimulation has the ability to reduce anxiety, promote deeper sleep and help ADHD sufferers feel less stressed. When cortisol levels go down, many people may even experience sharper focus and increased concentration.
For some excellent tips on how to self-soothe, don’t miss our post: Do Weighted Blankets Help with ADHD?
If you’re one of the 2.7 million Americans who suffer from anxiety or panic disorder, a weighted blanket may help alleviate your symptoms. As we explain in our post about weighted blankets and anxiety, stress is a leading cause of anxiety. We all deal with stress. For anxiety-sufferers, however, stress can trigger panic attacks, insomnia, and even high blood pressure. With a weighted blanket, you might experience more restorative sleep and an overall feeling of calm and well-being.
Luna weighted blankets may even help pets who experience anxiety during storms or when they hear loud noises like ambulances and fireworks.
Weighted blankets also offer a host of benefits to older loved ones. Check out our post: 5 Weighted Blanket Benefits for the Elderly.
Despite affecting up to 10 million people in the United States, fibromyalgia remains one of the most misunderstood and underdiagnosed diseases in the country. Researchers note that up to 70 percent of all fibromyalgia cases remain undiagnosed. For those who do receive a diagnosis, it takes an average of five years from the onset of symptoms to receive appropriate treatment.
Characterized as a chronic pain disease, fibromyalgia disproportionately affects women and can cause widespread pain in 18 pressure points throughout the body. Symptoms can vary widely from person to person and may include headaches, pain, digestive issues, dry mouth, frequent urination and numbness and tingling in the limbs.
Doctors can prescribe medications to help alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms, but many drugs have undesirable side effects. And because fibromyalgia often affects so many different parts of the body, many sufferers struggle to find a drug that addresses all of their symptoms.
Fortunately, a growing number of fibromyalgia patients are finding weighted blankets and experiencing reduced pain and better sleep because of it. Weighted blankets use deep pressure touch stimulation, which is ideal for people who experience widespread pain and “flare-ups.” By applying firm but gentle pressure, weighted blankets may ease pain and help fibromyalgia sufferers sleep more comfortably.
For more tips on how a weighted blanket may help with fibromyalgia, see our post: Can a Weighted Blanket Help with Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
Insomnia is a condition that affects about 40 million Americans. Unsurprisingly, shift workers, truck drivers, health care workers and other people who work unpredictable schedules make up a large percentage of insomnia sufferers.
Moreover, insomnia isn’t just about feeling tired. When you constantly miss sleep or sleep poorly, you’re exposed to a higher risk of suffering an occupational accident, being involved in a car wreck and even developing heart disease.
While prescriptions medications and over-the-counter sleep aids might help, they often leave people feeling drowsy or groggy in the morning. Worse, many are habit-forming. It’s no wonder that most insomnia sufferers prefer something more natural as weighted blankets are 100 percent drug-free.
Want tips for better sleep? We talk about insomnia and ways to get better sleep in our post, Can a Weighted Blanket Get Rid of Your Insomnia?
Many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with soldiers who have experienced combat. However, PTSD can affect anyone who has suffered through a traumatic, life-threatening or scary situation. For example, it’s not unusual for people who survive robberies, heart attacks or car accidents to develop PTSD.
According to veterans’ groups, about 7.8 percent of Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. PTSD can also cause sufferers to develop co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Veterans and other PTSD sufferers also have higher rates of divorce, alcoholism, and unemployment.
One of the most common characteristics of PTSD is a constant or near-constant feeling of an imminent threat of danger. While the person knows they are safe, their brain and body remain on “high alert.” This causes rises in blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing. When you’re always stuck in a “fight or flight” response, it’s normal to feel irritable, exhausted and depressed. This is why PTSD can be so debilitating.
Weighted blankets employ deep touch pressure stimulation, which occupational therapists use to quiet a patient’s central nervous system. Karen Moore, an occupational therapist who spoke to Psychology Today, states, “In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset and possibly on the verge of losing control.”
If you’re a parent, you may have swaddled your baby. Or perhaps your child liked being firmly tucked in at night when she got older. Kids seem to instinctively appreciate the benefits of deep pressure massage, which feels like a soothing hug. Weighted blankets make it possible for adults to experience it, too.
Does your PTSD keep you up at night or cause you stress? Your weighted blanket can do much more than help you de-stress and get more restful sleep. Here are 5 Ways Weighted Blankets Can Help Adults.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing disorder has been described as a traffic jam in the brain. Signals go in, but they get jammed up along the way. This can lead children and adults with the disorder to feel overwhelmed by things most of us tolerate with no problem. Even ordinary sounds, touches or scents can be painful and frustrating.
For kids especially, sensory processing disorder can lead to meltdowns. Quite simply, very young children often lack verbal or communication skills to let parents, teachers, and caregivers know when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Bombarded by touch or sound, they feel exhausted and cranky.
This is where a weighted blanket may be able to help. By increasing a child’s proprioceptive input, a weighted blanket may help kids (and adults!) receive all the benefits of touch without becoming overwhelmed.
We discuss weighted blankets and sensory processing disorder more here: Weighted Blankets and Sensory Processing Disorder — What You Need to Know.