What do weighted blankets do?
Weighted blankets help process sensory input. The idea behind it is that it applies deep pressure stimulation. When the blanket is laid over a specific area of the body, it stimulates certain sensory receptors, and those receptors can go on to release certain types of hormones and chemicals that can create a sense of calmness. It can help to destress and help people to feel less anxious. It can increase serotonin levels, our major happy hormone. It can also increase things like oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of our bonding chemicals. It’s known that when we hug people, oxytocin is released. A similar reaction is thought to occur with the use of a weighted blanket. Additionally, melatonin levels may be influenced. Melatonin is the major sleep hormone. All these hormones have been thought to increase when there is this deep pressure stimulation from the weighted blankets.
Conditions and Research on Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets can be used for many different conditions. Clinically, I see a lot of use with autism, ADHD, with sensory processing disorders. Weighted blankets can also be beneficial for other conditions, like restless leg syndrome (RLS), for certain arthritic conditions, for mental-emotional disorders like OCD, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There was a study done some years ago where they looked at the use of weighted blankets for inpatients in a metal psychiatric unit, and they found that there was, after using this blanket, a weighted blanket, that there was actually a decrease in the amount of stress and the amount of anxiety that these patients had when they had to actually meet with their providers.
Another interesting study that came out in around 2016 was looking at the use of weighted blankets during wisdom teeth extraction, specifically. And what they found was that when the weighted blanket was used, there was actually enhanced parasympathetic activity. So parasympathetic, it’s one part of our nervous system, one branch of our nervous system, where it helps us to relax and digest. So again, that’s really promising to have a weighted blanket exert a positive influence on our autonomic nervous system, on our nervous … Excuse me, on our parasympathetic nervous system.
The final study I want to share assessed the use of weighted blankets for children with ADHD as it relates to their classroom functioning. There were mixed findings from this study. There appeared to be an increase in the attention span for some, but for other children, there was absolutely no change.
I do not believe every treatment is going to be perfect for everyone. It is worth it to give it a try to see if it can help.
Weighted Blanket Fabric and Materials
There are generally two questions I’m asked when one is looking to purchase a weighted blanket — “What should I be looking for?” and “What’s inside of those weighted blankets?“
Weighted blankets can be made out any many fabric types. The most common fabric I see and recommend is *cotton. Cotton is great because it’s natural, biodegradable. and great for temperature control. The second type of fabric I see used for weighted blankets is **Minky. Minky has a soft, silky texture. Kids’ blankets are typically made out of this because it is comfortable and durable.
Silk and bamboo can be also be used to create weighted blankets. Silk can get expensive. Bamboo, though much more sustainable, requires processing, ideally without the use of chemicals, which might be difficult to do.
Generally, a weighted blanket contains plastic pellets or glass beads. If opting for a DIY weighted blanket, you can consider using rice or beans.
*Cotton: 100% organic is best
**Minky: Can get hot, especially during the summer
If you or your child are struggling with insomnia, anxiety, depression, or sensory processing disorder, and don’t know where to go, what to do, or what’s the next step of action, schedule an introductory call today (203) 900-4886.
Author Dr. Shyron Alston