How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
By Jennie - Provisional Psychologist
If you've ever visited us at Wildflower Holistic Services, you've probably noticed our shelf stuffed with hand-made weighted blankets! If you haven't seen them yet, you should keep an eye out because they come in cool colours, various sizes, and different weights, and have all been made with caring hands and loving intentions.
But what exactly is a weighted blanket?
A weighted blanket contains added materials, like plastic or glass beads, and extra layers to give it more weight. The heaviness of these blankets vary, but the general rule of thumb is to select one that is about 10% of the user's body weight. In addition to being warmer and heavier than regular blankets, weighted blankets come with other benefits reported anecdotally and through research, such as improved sleep, reduced anxiety, and decreased symptoms in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The theory underlying weighted blankets is Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS), which is the application of deep pressure to the body that relaxes the nervous system and can be achieved through hugs, swaddling, gentle squeezing, and more. When we feel stressed or anxious, a specific part of our central nervous system, called the autonomic nervous system, is activated. This is further broken down into two systems known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The former is in charge of our involuntary responses to danger and threat; when we feel like the adrenaline has kicked in, our heart rate has increased, and our breathing has become quick, we’re most likely in this sympathetic state. The latter is in charge of bringing our bodies back to a normal state when the danger or threat has passed and we are safe enough to stop the production of hormones that encourage alertness, return to a regular heart rhythm, and slow breathing patterns.
This is the body’s natural response to stress, threat, and danger, and it’s not harmful if we are able to return to a calm state through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. However, it starts becoming a problem when our bodies stay in this stress response state even after what triggered it is no longer present or what causes the stress is always around.
There is a lot of stress associated with modern society. I’m not even talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down! I’m talking about everyday stressors like the pressure to perform academically, the changes associated with growing up, the never ending deadlines, the need to juggle work and home life, the expectation to have things figured out, the stress of making decision after decision for yourself and those around you, the fear you’re not doing good enough, the responsibility of looking after others in your care, and so much more we take for granted but add up into a giant ball of stress, anxiety, and an overactive sympathetic nervous system (Jeez! Writing that alone made my heart rate increase!).
Do you ever feel like you can’t “switch off”, or you’re supposed to be relaxing but don’t feel like you can, or that you always have to be doing something otherwise you feel “unproductive”? Your sympathetic nervous system is probably running overtime! We are constantly stressed out that our bodies are becoming unbalanced with the overproduction of stress-related hormones in our bloodstream, and we just don’t know how to slow down.
Well, this is where weighted blankets and DPS can come in. From a sensory integration perspective (if you don't know what that is, check out my previous blog post on the pyramid of learning), weighted blankets are designed to provide consistent proprioceptive input to the body to promote calm and relaxation. DPS has been found to bring the body from an anxious "fight or flight" state to a calm "rest and digest" state. When in this "rest and digest" state, the body puts the brakes on stress hormone production that is released when we're in stressful or anxiety provoking situations, slows the heart rate and breathing rate, and encourages digestion. Furthermore, many people report that using a weighted blanket feels like getting a big hug from someone! When we receive hugs, our bodies release happy hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which increase feelings of happiness, calmness and relaxation. Our bodies are finally able to slow down, relax, and feel good!
Many people experiencing sleep difficulties, ASD, ADHD, and other mental and physical health conditions may also experience lots of stress and anxiety that can be alleviated by weighted blankets. However, they’re not the only ones who may benefit from a great big weighted blanket hug. If you're interested and want to try a weighted blanket for yourself or buy one for your little legend, we, at Wildflower Holistic Services, are here to help! Click here to go to our online store or come in to Wildflower HQ to have a look at our Comfort Buddy! We’d be more than happy to help you in your search for a more calm and relaxed you, especially if it is with the help of a weighted blanket and DPS.