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Can Weighted Blankets Help Traumatic Brain Injury?

Doctors consider and discuss magnetic resonance image (MRI) of the brain

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) affect about 5.3 million Americans. These injuries can range from relatively mild concussions to lifelong disability.

While brain injuries tend to affect everyone differently, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Here's how a weighted blanket might improve the quality of life for someone with a TBI.

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe. For example, a concussion is a type of TBI, and people can suffer them due to falls, car accidents and sports activities.

Each day, around 153 people die due to TBI, and these injuries account for 30 percent of all injury-related deaths in the United States. There are approximately 1.7 million new TBIs each year, and 5.3 million Americans live with some type of disability caused by a TBI.

In some cases, a TBI is closed, which means the damage occurs when the brain is jolted inside the skull. This type of traumatic brain injury includes concussions, which can range from mild to serious and permanently disabling.

By contrast, a penetrating traumatic brain injury involves some kind of piercing or shattering of the skull. This can occur when an object penetrates the head.

People who suffer a TBI can experience a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, changes in personality, impaired memory, difficulty sleeping, nausea, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light or sound, loss of balance and problems with speech. For some people, the symptoms resolve within a relatively short period of time. For others, however, a traumatic brain injury means long-term or even lifelong challenges.

What Causes Traumatic Brain Injuries?

The Mayo Clinic identifies some of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries, which include:

  • Falls - Falls are the most common cause of TBIs, with 47 percent of all brain injury-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by falls. Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to TBIs caused by falls.
    Furthermore, a fall doesn’t have to occur from a significant height to cause serious damage. Even a slip and fall on ice or a loose rug can result in concussion or a more severe TBI. 
  • Car Accidents - Motor vehicle collisions are the third-leading cause of traumatic brain injuries. Although technology has made cars safer, the human body can only sustain so much force in an accident.
    No one leaves their home expecting to be involved in a car accident, yet there are more than 3 million collisions every year. Furthermore, up to 60 percent of car accident victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can pose a variety of challenges, including disrupted sleep.  
  • Sports Injuries - Researchers have found that 96 percent of former professional football players suffer from a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Additional research has diagnosed the same brain disease in athletes from other sports, including hockey and baseball.
    However, it’s not just pros who can suffer serious TBIs. Student-athletes suffer concussions at a rate of between 
    1.7 and 3 million each year, with football players accounting for 300,000 of these injuries.  
  • Violence - Violence, including gunshot wounds, also accounts for a significant number of TBIs. Self-inflicted violence is the second-leading cause of TBIs in the United States. 
  • Explosives - Veterans also suffer TBIs at a higher rate than the general population, and many of their TBIs are caused by the concussion blasts that result from detonated devices. According to the Department of Defense, over 17,800 service members suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2017 alone.

However TBIs occur, they can be debilitating for the victim. For many people, just getting a good night’s rest is a challenge after a TBI. This is where a weighted blanket may be able to help.

Portrait of young caucasian sports athlete having eyesight checked by doctor

How Weighted Blankets May Help Ease the Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury

One of the main symptoms of traumatic brain injury is insomnia and difficulty sleeping. According to one study, up to 70 percent of TBI sufferers experience insomnia.

As the study states, “Insomnia, fatigue, and sleepiness are the most frequent post-TBI sleep complaints with narcolepsy (with or without cataplexy), sleep apnea (obstructive and/or central), periodic limb movement disorder, and parasomnias occurring less commonly. In addition, depression, anxiety and pain are common TBI co-morbidities with substantial influence on sleep quality.”

If you or a loved one has suffered a TBI, and you experience insomnia as a result, a weighted blanket may help you get the rest you need.

As we explain in our post about the science behind weighted blankets, autism researcher Dr. Temple Grandin was the first to link firm but gentle pressure and squeezing with decreased anxiety. As a scientist as well as an individual on the autism spectrum, Dr. Grandin had a unique insight into the needs of people with autism. When she observed cows being calmed by pressure devices designed to hold them still for vaccinations, she decided to apply the same technology to human patients.

Dr. Grandin’s experiments were successful, and she developed a squeeze machine to help children and adults with autism feel safe, comforted and calm.

Squeeze machines are still used by occupational therapists today, but they are heavy and quite costly. Fortunately, kids and adults can experience the benefits of firm but gentle pressure by using a weighted blanket.

An injured soccer player is tested for a concussion

As with a squeeze machine, weighted blankets deliver a form of therapy called deep pressure touch stimulation. This therapy, which involves firm but gentle pressure and squeezing on the skin, has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote calm in anxiety sufferers, as well as people with PTSD and other health conditions.

Over the years, researchers have found that weighted blankets aren’t just helpful for addressing the symptoms of autism. In fact, there are many benefits of weighted blanket therapy.

According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, a weighted blanket can help people sleep better and wake feeling more refreshed. The study also found that a weighted blanket helped reduce anxiety in users.

As the study notes, “The application of deep pressure, through for example weighted vests and blankets, has been reported to produce a calming and relaxing effect in clinical conditions such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pervasive developmental disorders. Applying deep pressure has been shown to be beneficial for children with high levels of anxiety or arousal and deep pressure touch may also alleviate anxiety (e.g. in dental environments and bipolar disorder).”

For people who struggle with insomnia following a TBI, deep pressure touch stimulation therapy may be key to falling asleep more easily and staying asleep longer. Weighted blankets are made to be around 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and they should be sized to fit the person, not their bed. If you have questions about how heavy your weighted blanket should be or what size to order, just contact us for expert help.

Order Your Luna Weighted Blanket Today  

Good sleep is important at every age. At Luna, we’re committed to helping America sleep better and feel more rested. Take a look at our order page to view a wide range of solid and pattern fabrics.
We welcome your questions! Get in touch by calling us at 212-473-4013, or use our online contact form to speak to one of our helpful team members.
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.

The Science Behind Weighted Blankets: Why (and How) They Work

deep pressure stimulation on woman sleeping

If you or your child has autism, anxiety or a sensory processing disorder, your doctor or occupational therapist may have recommended a weighted blanket as a way to help manage the symptoms. Created to mimic the benefits of deep touch pressure therapy, weighted blankets have been shown to help ease anxiety, increase oxytocin in the brain and help individuals with sensory processing disorders feel more relaxed.

But what does research have to say about weighted blankets? Could a weighted blanket help you? If you've ever wondered about the science behind weighted blankets, we explain how they work, along with the various health conditions they might help treat.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket can (and should) resemble a regular blanket. In fact, at Luna, we often receive positive feedback from customers who appreciate how our blankets are made to resemble regular blankets — not “therapy blankets” or medical equipment. We offer weighted blankets in a variety of patterns, colors, and prints. We also offer waterproof fabrics and double-sided cuddle fabrics in both prints and solids. And if you fall in love with a fabric we don’t offer, we’ll even make a custom order with your fabric of choice.  

Unlike a regular blanket, however, a weighted blanket is filled with hypoallergenic, non-toxic medical grade glass beads. The beads are sewn into self-contained small pockets that are evenly distributed throughout the blanket. These beads give the blanket its weight, which should generally be around 10 percent of the user’s body weight, give or take a few pounds depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. You can read more about sizing and weight guidelines on our FAQ page.

Another way weighted blankets differ from regular blankets is that they should be sized to fit the person’s body and not their bed. The reason is that a weighted blanket that hangs over the side of the bed will inevitably pull toward the floor.

How Does a Weighted Blanket Work?

Chances are, you own quite a few blankets. We’re all familiar with blankets, how they work and what they’re for. You might even have a favorite blanket or a blanket you prefer to snuggle up with while you watch television or read a book. Perhaps as a child, you had a blanket, blankie or lovie you carried around with you (and maybe even refused to leave behind). Blankets are a favorite soothing and comfort tool for a lot of people — even if they don’t realize it.

Weighted blankets take the soothing, calming comforts of a regular blanket and combine it with a therapy tool originally pioneered by autism researcher, Temple Grandin. As a young person, Dr. Grandin saw cows being led through a compression device designed to hold them in place for their vaccinations. She noticed that the cows became calmer and more docile when they were gently squeezed.  

As someone on the autism spectrum herself, Dr. Grandin recalled how being held and hugged as a child often helped ease her anxiety and sensory processing disorder. However, she also remembered that on some occasions, hugging or holding had irritated or alarmed her. She wondered how she could help people with autism and sensory processing disorders get all the benefits of a hug without feeling confined or restricted.

Using the squeeze machine concept she’d seen on the farm, she built a similar device for people. Known as a squeeze machine or hug machine, the therapy tool she created works by applying firm but gentle pressure throughout the body. Similar to a hug, it stimulates the release of oxytocin — the happiness chemical in the brain.

Why Do Weighted Blankets Help with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder?

oxytocin chemical

The benefits of hugging and cuddling are well-established. Oxytocin is an important neurotransmitter that helps people feel relaxed, calm and generally happy. As Christopher Bergland at Psychology Today writes, “Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.” Studies have shown that cuddling can produce oxytocin, which boosts an individual’s sense of wellbeing.

In fact, the benefits of hugging and cuddling are so well-known that they’ve been incorporated into various forms of therapy. Research has shown that deep touch pressure therapy can boost oxytocin in people with autism, anxiety and sensory processing disorder.   

When you have a sensory processing disorder, however, touch and tactile sensitivity can cause anxiety, an unsettled feeling and even pain. Adults and children with sensory processing disorder or autism can’t always tolerate hugging or cuddling. This is where a weighted blanket may help. By applying firm but gentle pressure, a weighted blanket delivers all of the benefits of a hug without forcing unwelcome or unpleasant body contact with another person.

There are a variety of squeeze machines on the market today. However, the majority of these devices are quite costly, with most models priced in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Because they have such high price tags, they are frequently only available in hospitals and therapy centers. Fortunately, a weighted blanket may deliver all of the same benefits of a squeeze machine, but at an affordable price that fits everyone’s budget.     

What Types of Conditions Can a Weighted Blanket Help?

Weighted blankets are perhaps most closely associated with a sensory processing disorder and related conditions like autism, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, weighted blankets may help with a wide variety of other health issues.

Deep touch pressure therapy promotes the release of oxytocin, and because oxytocin is known to help ease a broad range of health conditions, it’s useful for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Weighted Blankets for Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder can take one of two forms. Some children and adults with sensory processing disorder are hypersensitive (oversensitive) to stimuli and may become overwhelmed by noise, crowds or touching. In other people, sensory processing disorder takes the form of hyposensitivity (undersensitivity). This group may have difficulty sensing noises, touch, and other stimuli. Whereas someone who is oversensitive might avoid hugs or touching, an undersensitive person may actually seek it out. In some cases, people with undersensitivity also have a very high pain tolerance.

Therapists and medical professionals offer a variety of tools and therapies to help treat the symptoms of sensory processing disorder. For example, your therapist may have suggested a weighted blanket as a way to help you or your child handle the issues associated with the disorder. Because a weighted blanket is an object and not a person, children who are hypersensitive may respond better to it because they get to control the blanket. In other words, they decide how much or how little touch they would like to experience and can adjust the blanket to cover the areas where they feel they can tolerate pressure. And for adults and children who are hypersensitive, the blanket provides the firm, gentle pressure they crave.  

Weighted Blankets for Autism

Dr. Temple Grandin is perhaps the most notable researcher on the use of deep touch pressure as a therapeutic tool for autism. As she writes in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, “Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling… Autistic children will often seek out deep pressure sensations.”

Like the squeeze machine, a weighted blanket mimics deep pressure touch therapy, which may help calm and soothe children and adults with autism.   

Weighted Blankets for Anxiety

There are about 40 million anxiety sufferers in the United States, making it one of the most common mental illnesses in the country. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Despite this, the ADAA reports that just 36.9 percent of sufferers get the treatment they need.

Anxiety can wreak havoc on your daily life, as well as make falling asleep at night a challenge. In a study that measured the vital signs of adults who used weighted blankets, 63 percent of participants said they felt less anxiety while using the weighted blanket. Researchers also recorded a 33 percent drop in electrodermal activity — a response generated by the sweat glands, often in response to stress. If you deal with chronic anxiety, a weighted blanket may help you sleep better at night and experience more worry-free days.

Weighted Blankets for ADHD

Researchers at Temple University found that 95 percent of participants with ADHD in a study improved when they received the sensory intervention. The interventions offered included deep pressure touch therapy and a variety of strenuous exercise. As one researcher stated, “We found significant improvement in sensory avoiding behaviors, tactile sensitivity, and visual auditory sensitivity in the group that received treatment.”

If your therapist uses deep pressure touch therapy, he or she may suggest using a weighted blanket so you can continue to receive the benefits at home.   

Weighted Blankets for Insomnia

Most Americans don’t get enough sleep. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that 45 percent of the population consistently gets “poor or insufficient sleep.” According to the Sleep Health Foundation, 1 out of 3 adults suffers from insomnia. If you have insomnia, you know how frustrating it can be to desperately want to sleep, yet be unable to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.

Scientific research has shown that deep touch pressure — sometimes called deep pressure stimulation — can create a calm, peaceful feeling that reduces insomnia. In the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 78 percent of participants in a weighted blanket study said that using a 30-pound weighted blanket made them feel calmer.  

Weighted Blankets for Restless Leg Syndrome

People who suffer from restless leg syndrome experience frequent and sometimes constant uncomfortable feelings and sensations in their legs. Sufferers describe these sensations in a number of ways, including “pins and needles” and “creepy crawly.” To get relief, they often feel an overwhelming urge to move their legs — hence the name for the disorder. When symptoms strike at night, sufferers can spend hours tossing and turning.

Weighted blankets may help ease the symptoms of restless leg syndrome by applying steady, even pressure around the legs. And because weighted blankets can help boost oxytocin, people with restless leg syndrome may also feel calmer and less anxious, which can lead to more restful sleep.  

Weighted Blankets for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. People with fibromyalgia experience a range of symptoms, including widespread pain and heightened sensitivity on at least 11 out of 18 pain points throughout the body.

Unfortunately, many patients with fibromyalgia go years and sometimes decades before they are properly diagnosed. This can be an incredibly frustrating and demoralizing experience. There are about 5 million fibromyalgia sufferers in the U.S., but experts say there are likely many more who remain undiagnosed.

One therapy that can help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia is myofascial release, which involves the application of firm but gentle pressure over the fibromyalgia pain points. Weighted blankets can mimic this pressure, which may help fibromyalgia sufferers experience a reduction in symptoms.    

Luna Weighted Blankets   

To learn more about Luna weighted blankets, or to place your order, visit our order page. Questions? Give us a call at 212-473-4013, or use our online contact form to get in touch.

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. 

10 Health Benefits of Weighted Blankets, Backed by Science

10 Health Benefits of Weighted Blankets, Backed by Science

Despite its recent surge in popularity, weighted blankets have been used since 1999, when occupational therapist Tina Champagne began using weighted blankets to help her mental health patients. From easing the symptoms of sensory issues to helping insomniacs get that restful nights sleep they deserve, weighted blankets are able to address a wide range of issues which we'll discuss in depth in this article. 

1. Eases Insomnia

Until you’ve experienced insomnia, it’s easy to dismiss it as a mere bump in an otherwise smooth road of easy sleep.

It’s safe to say anyone with this attitude has never truly experienced insomnia. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from the condition, you know exactly how Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club felt. (He was so exhausted he literally hallucinated through the entire movie. He also punched himself.)

While your insomnia might not drive you to create an underground boxing club, it can definitely interfere with your life. Research has shown that a form of therapy called deep touch pressure stimulation promotes the release of serotonin, a chemical that regulates sleep. 

Weighted blankets provide this firm but gentle pressure anytime you need it, which means lots of blissful ZZZs.

2. Helps with Sensory Processing Disorder

Researchers have described sensory processing disorder as a “traffic jam” in your brain. Information gets in, but it somehow gets jumbled and clogged up along the way. This can lead to anxiety and meltdowns. Sensory processing disorder can be especially challenging for young kids, who don’t always have the emotional maturity to verbalize how they’re feeling.

Studies have shown that weighted blankets can produce a “calming effect” in kids and adults with a sensory processing disorder. The same research also states that weighted blankets help reduce the anxiety that often accompanies the condition.

3. Reduces Anxiety

Anxiety is unfortunately quite common, and about 40 million people in the U.S. have some form of it. There are several ways to deal with anxiety, including identifying your triggers, setting aside designated “worry times” throughout the week and using a weighted blanket.

A weighted blanket is a lot like getting a firm but gentle hug — except you don’t have to bribe your roommate or significant other to give you one. Even better, you can get the benefits just about anywhere, from the sofa to your bed.

4. Fights Back Against Stress

Stress happens to everyone, and you don’t have to have a chronic stress problem to feel the negative side effects. Whether it’s a bad day at work, an argument with your spouse or an avalanche of bills, stress can do a number on your mental and physical health.

The good news is weighted blankets help you fight back. Research shows that deep touch pressure stimulation therapy works. With a weighted blanket, you don’t have to travel to a therapist or buy expensive equipment to get stress relief. 

5. Improves Focus for ADHD

One of the most common hallmarks of attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD) is a lack of focus. This can be a problem for both children and adults. Whereas some people with ADHD have trouble completing a task, others are inclined to impulsiveness and restlessness.

The bottom line is that ADHD poses a wide range of possible symptoms, and it doesn’t always affect everyone the same way.

Deep touch pressure stimulation, which is what weighted blankets offer, has been shown to produce a calming, soothing effect that reduces anxiety. And because deep touch pressure also helps with mood and sleep, it’s also great for addressing those symptoms in ADHD sufferers.

Check out our blog post for more tips on dealing with ADHD: Do Weighted Blankets Help with ADHD

6. Eases Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

Patients with restless leg syndrome often describe it as a tingling or “creepy crawly” feeling in their legs. Because symptoms tend to happen more frequently at night, it can lead to insomnia and unsatisfying sleep. Traveling in a car or riding in an airplane can be a nightmare when you have an overwhelming urge to constantly move your legs.

Some patients say they could get relief if only they could somehow weight down their legs or put constant pressure on them. Many even turn to compression socks to get some relief.

However, these socks can be extremely tight and even add to the discomfort. They can also be difficult for people with arthritis or mobility challenges to put on. Weighted blankets provide the deep pressure you crave without any constriction on your legs.  

7. Helps Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia has sometimes been called a “silent disease” because so many sufferers fail to get a diagnosis or wait years before receiving one. It’s also a condition that disproportionately affects women.

Characterized by chronic, idiopathic pain in at least 11 out of 18 pain points, fibromyalgia can be debilitating. While certain drugs may help patients manage their symptoms, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. 

For some people, the gentle but firm pressure of a weighted blanket is an important tool for preventing fibro flare-ups. At SensaCalm, we constantly hear from fibromyalgia patients who swear by their weighted blankets and wouldn’t sleep without one.

You can read more about fibromyalgia and weighted blankets here: Can a Weighted Blanket Help with Fibromyalgia Symptoms? 

8. Improves Sleep Quality

Not everyone who experiences bad sleep has insomnia. Sometimes, fatigue is simply the result of poor sleep quality. While it’s important to get the right amount of sleep, it’s also important to make sure the sleep you get is truly restful and restorative. Some experts refer to sleep quality as sleep hygiene

One way to improve your sleep hygiene is by using a weighted blanket. Because deep touch pressure stimulation boosts serotonin, sleeping under the firm but gentle pressure can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer and wake feeling more rested.  

9. Boosts Mood

When you feel down, it can sometimes seem like you’ll never feel “normal” or happy again. While it’s normal to feel grouchy or irritable, researchers know that some bouts of sadness are caused by chemical changes in the brain. For example, if your brain isn’t producing enough serotonin, it could actually impact your emotional health.

Fortunately, deep touch pressure stimulation has been shown to boost the production of serotonin. There’s also evidence that deep touch pressure reduces cortisol (stress) levels.

Even better, you can get this therapy at home (or just about anywhere) with a weighted blanket.

10. Promotes Calmness

Have you ever had a day that just refused to go right? The kind of day where you get stuck in traffic on the way to work, spill coffee all over yourself at your desk and then come home to a dishwasher that leaked all over the floor?

Bad days can strike when you least expect it — or need it. A popular misconception about weighted blankets is that you must have a diagnosed medical condition to truly need one. While we here at SensaCalm love hearing from people and families who use our blankets for medical issues, we also talk to customers who use their weighted blankets to unwind and de-stress after a long day.

The reality is that everyone can benefit from feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. You deserve a little TLC. A weighted blanket can definitely deliver it!