Do Weighted Blankets Work? Read The Science Behind Weighted Blankets


If you’re reading this blog post, you probably already have a rough idea of what weighted blankets are about.

In a nutshell, weighted blankets are blankets that are weighed down by stuffers such as plastic pellets, poly pellets or glass beads.

When it comes to how heavy these blankets should be, a general guideline is to choose a blanket that’s 7% to 12% of your body weight. (In our experience, though, you get better results with heavier blankets, so keep that in mind!)

Now, once folks understand the basics of weighted blankets, they often start wondering… what’s the science behind weighted blankets? Do weighted blankets work, for real?

In this article, we seek to demystify weighted blankets, and address all the burning questions that you’ve got about the effectiveness of weighted blankets, once and for all.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

Do weighted blankets work?

According to multiple studies, yes, weighted blankets do help to alleviate stress and anxiety.

We’ll get to these studies in a bit, but first, let’s explore how weighted blankets work.

woman with rings holding a weighted blanket
Essentially, weighted blankets provide a firm, deep pressure stimulation that’s known as Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP).

If you haven’t heard about DTP before, it’s a form of firm tactile sensory input that provides proprioceptive input to the whole body.

To break it down in simple English, DTP results in a reassuring, cocooning feeling that helps to calm individuals down.

Alright, so now you know the theory behind weighted blankets, let’s talk about exactly how weighted blankets work.

When you drape a weighted blanket across you, this exerts a light, soothing pressure on you, and it produces a “stroking-like” tactile sensation when you move.

As Gaby Badre, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the sleep disorders clinic (SDS Kliniken) in Gothenburg, Sweden puts it: the tactile stimulation, when amplified by movements, results in the equivalent of a caress.

Now, when we receive this tactile stimulation, this triggers the release of neurotransmitters that act of decrease over-arousal and anxiety.

More specifically, DPT aids in the release of both serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that make people feel more relaxed.


How did weighted blankets come about?

Weighted blankets were derived from the Squeeze Machine, which is a therapy tool created by autism researcher, Temple Grandin.

When she was young, Dr. Grandin saw cows being led through a compression device that was designed to hold them in place while administering vaccinations.

old man in red looking at the camera with livestock in the background

While the cows were initially displaying a large amount of anxiety, Dr. Grandin realized that they suddenly become calm and docile upon being squeezed by the machine.

This led to Dr. Grandin coming up with the idea of using DPT to provide comfort to individuals with autism.

Here, Dr. Grandin -- who was on the autism spectrum herself -- drew from her own experiences. She knew that being held and hugged comforted her, but also noted that at times, she felt irritated or alarmed when someone approached her and attempted to hug her.

Bearing this in mind, Dr. Grandin set out to create a device that could help individuals with autism and sensory processing disorders get the positive benefits of a hug without feeling confined or cornered.

After a good deal of trial and error, Dr. Grandin built the Squeeze Machine, which was modelled after the compression machine that she saw on the farm.

This therapy tool applied firm but gentle pressure throughout the patient’s body, and stimulated the release of neurotransmitters in their brain.

Now, while the Squeeze Machine was useful in alleviating stress and anxiety, it was bulky and expensive -- this led manufacturers to come up with the idea of building a lightweight device that could achieve the same benefits.

Enter… the weighted blanket!

man sleeping at the edge of a bed using a dark gray weighted blanket

While weighted blankets were originally purchased by healthcare professionals, and used as a therapy tool, they’ve grown increasingly mainstream over the past few years.

Today, manufacturers and brands are selling weighted blankets directly to consumers, and it’s no longer seen as a tool specifically for those on the autism spectrum.

Instead, weighted blankets are now commonly used by folks who want to improve their sleep quality and reduce their stress levels!


Why buy a weighted blanket, when you can just give and receive hugs?

If weighted blankets work because of DPT, and DPT can be administered through hugs, then why can’t we simply use hugs to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety?

First up, individuals who have sensory processing disorders may not always be able to tolerate hugging or even touching. Because these individuals have tactile sensitivity, they get easily overwhelmed by people who touch them or hug them.

Bearing this in mind, if you’ve got an autistic child who’s displaying signs of stress or anxiety, enveloping them in a tight hug may help… but it might also serve to worsen their anxiety.

That’s where weighted blankets come in -- these blankets can apply firm but gentle pressure, and they bring about all the benefits of a hug without forcing any unwelcome or unpleasant body contact.

Autistic individuals aside, how about your average Joe who wants to use DPT to reduce their feelings of stress and anxiety?

For these folks, you can definitely seek out hugs as a form of DPT, but there are certain logistical issues that come into play here.

Assuming you live alone, you probably won’t see your close friends and family EVERY single day -- and this might make it hard for you to get DPT as and when you need it.

Even if you’re living with a partner or close friend, they might not be available to help you ease your stress or anxiety 24/7.

man holding a woman sleeping on his chest under a weighted blanket

Here’s an example: if you experience chronic insomnia and you don’t fall asleep till the wee hours of the morning, you can’t quite ask your partner to forgo their own sleep to cuddle you till early morning.

The bottom line? Using a weighted blanket is a lot easier, and more realistic!

Weighted blanket therapy: Relevant studies

Insomnia

This study from SciMedCentral found that sleep time increased while movement during sleep decreased when participants used a weighted blanket.

Participants found it easier to settle down, fall asleep, and felt more refreshed in the morning.

Another study aimed to evaluate  the effect of weighted chain blankets on insomnia and sleep-related daytime symptoms for patients with psychiatric disorders. 

The results determined that depressive and anxiety symptoms decreased significantly for participants allocated to the weighted blanket in comparison to others.

Anxiety

Several engineers and behavioural scientists studied the safety of using a very heavy blanket in adults.

The results were lower brain activity, lower anxiety, and 78% preferred the blanket as a calming method.

Northwestern College conducted a literature review in 2018 to determine the effects of weighted blankets in patients with symptoms of Anxiety. 

This synthesis of the information researched suggested that weighted blankets are “efficacious anxiety-reducing agents”.

Research from Illinois Wesleyan University also discovered that statistically, there is a significant relationship between blanket type and quality of sleep. Therefore, weighted blankets may improve sleep quality and decrease levels of anxiety.

Deep Pressure Stimulation

The American Occupational Therapy Association studied the benefits of DTPS; the benefits have shown to occur even in short periods of being under a weight.

Sympathetic arousal decreased while parasympathetic arousal decreased. This led to improved performance on a test after being under the weight.

A study using a 30lb blanket in the lying down position was proven to be safe, as evidenced by vital sign metrics. 

Furthermore, data revealed that through the use of weighted blankets, 33% of participants demonstrated a lower electrodermal activity, 63% of participants reported lower anxiety, and 78% preferred the weight blanket as a calming method.

Autism

This study explains that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience more sleep problems, which as a result, causes more restlessness, tantrums, stereotypic activities, and reduced learning as well as speaking power.

Interventions, such as weighted blankets, can improve sleep quality and quality of life for children with ASD with no adverse effect.

Weighted blankets are known to be a common treatment for individuals with ASD. They have also been used to calm children with motoric restlessness and improve body awareness.

When surveying adults with autism and their sensory experiences, data had shown benefits in sleep, sensory issues, and stress reduction from the use of weighted blankets.

ADHD

A study aimed to evaluate the clinical use of weighted blankets for insomnia in patients with ADHD.

Results had illustrated a reduction in median time to fall asleep and significant improvement of several other sleep-related issues. After a year, the positive results were maintained.

Want to keep reading about the science?

Here is a list of extra sources:

W.B. for in-patient mental health hospital to decrease Anxiety

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33317955/

W.B. on Anxiety Reduction for Adults undergoing Chemotherapy

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32678376/

W.B. Effectiveness in the care of Infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32868588/

Effects of W.B. for person with severe Dementia

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/psyg.12656

Study of a sensory room in an acute in-patient psychiatric unit.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23014117/

Cognitive assistive technology and professional support in everyday life for adults with ADHD

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23992459/

Study on the positive effects of a WB on Insomnia

https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1081315&dswid=-2319

Efficacy of Weighted Blankets for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Overresponsivity, and Sleep Disturbance

https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=2636409

Weighted Blankets: Impact on PRN Medication Use in the Inpatient Mental Health Setting Review of Literature

https://openprairie.sdstate.edu/con_dnp/138/

An assistive sleeping bag for children with autism spectrum disorder

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40691-018-0133-5

Physiological Effects of Deep Touch Pressure on Anxiety Alleviation: The Weighted Blanket Approach

https://autismevriendelijkemondzorg.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Chen-.pdf

Using weighted blankets in an inpatient mental health hospital to decrease anxiety

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S209549642030131X

Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation on Physiological Arousal

https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleID=2247281

The Effect of Deep Pressure Therapy on the Health of Individuals With Developmental Disorders

https://scholarworks.arcadia.edu/showcase/2020/psychology/39/

W.B. for Insomnia in Patients with Psychiatric Disorders

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348131723_Weighted_Blankets_for_Insomnia_in_Patients_with_Psychiatric_Disorders

Worth The Weight: Weighted Blanket Improves Sleep And Increases Relaxation

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341707126_1203_Worth_The_Weight_Weighted_Blanket_Improves_Sleep_And_Increases_Relaxation

Want to give weighted blankets a shot?

I hope you got some value out of this summary on weighted blankets and why they work. 

If you’re keen on experiencing the magic of weighted blankets with a premium one made just for adults, go ahead and purchase a Hush Blanket for yourself.

Don’t worry about changing your mind -- all Hush Blankets come with an awesome 100 Night Guarantee, and you can get a FULL refund if you decide that the blanket isn’t for you after all.

What are you waiting for? Purchase your Hush Blanket now, and look forward to countless nights of uninterrupted sleep!

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