Deep Pressure Therapy: Why Weighted Blankets Are So Calming


deep pressure therapy: Man sleeping in bed


If you’re in desperate need of some R&R but don’t want to pay high massage bills, it’s the perfect time to learn about deep pressure therapy.

This form of therapy makes you relax more deeply by overriding sensory input. It’s the effect of deep pressure massage therapy, where the therapists work in smooth movements to release muscular tension. However, you don’t need to wait for your significant other or close friend to come over and give you a massage! At-home tools like weighted blankets can give you the benefits in your own safe, comfortable home.

In this blog post, we walk you through what deep pressure therapy is, how it works, and how to achieve it with weighted blankets.

Just to clarify, deep pressure therapy = deep pressure touch = deep pressure stimulation. All these terms mean exactly the same thing.

Alright, let’s get started!

What Is Deep Pressure Therapy?

deep pressure therapy: Masseuse massaging a person's back


Deep pressure therapy uses firm, gentle, and consistent pressure on one’s body. That’s all there is to it. The therapy may be simple, but it truly helps you relax

According to Harvard researchers, applying this sort of pressure helps people with hyperactivity, ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder (SPD), and other special needs feel at ease because it reduces their anxiety. In occupational therapy, the deep pressure stimulation overrides other senses, so the participant is better able to feel calm and soothed.

Of course, you don’t need to have any of these conditions in order to enjoy deep pressure therapy. Whether you have anxiety, insomnia, work stress, or would just enjoy deeper and more relaxing sleep, you’ll benefit from deep pressure therapy.

Even if you’re just learning the term “deep pressure therapy,” chances are you’ve encountered this form of therapy. For instance, think about how your body reacts when you snuggle up under a heavy blanket. Your mind calms down and your body releases tension. That’s deep pressure therapy.

How Does Deep Pressure Therapy Work?

deep pressure therapy: Man getting a massage


Now that you know about the basics of deep pressure therapy, let’s explore the science of how it works.

Basically, deep pressure therapy helps your body transition from running the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.

Let’s take a look.

Sympathetic Nervous System

Your sympathetic nervous system, or autonomic nervous system, takes over when you’re in a stressful situation.

When this happens, your adrenal glands trigger the release of certain hormones, and your body activates your “fight, flight, or freeze” response:

  • Your heart rate increases.
  • Your pupils widen.
  • Your palms get sweaty.
  • Your muscles tense up.

The physical signs of stress will stay as long as the threat is around. When the threat is gone, your body will return to its regular functioning in 20 to 60 minutes.

Parasympathetic Nervous System

Your parasympathetic nervous system is also known as your “rest and digest” system. You can think of this as the body’s “default setting,” assuming there’s no real or perceived threat present.

This system does the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system:

  • Your heart rate decreases.
  • Your blood pressure decreases.
  • Your breathing slows down.
  • Your pupils become smaller.

If there’s an actual threat, you’d obviously want your fight, flight, or freeze mode activated so you can deal with the situation.

However, for people who are prone to stress or who have chronic anxiety, the body might be in fight or flight mode even when there’s no real threat. This means you’re constantly running on “high alert,” and you can’t get the rest you need.

Here’s where deep pressure therapy comes in. Deep pressure helps your body transition from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.

More specifically, applying deep pressure touch helps your body produce “feel-good” neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. This reduces the cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body and prompts the body to transition to the “rest-and-digest” mode.

How to Achieve Deep Pressure Therapy

Woman in a meditation pose outdoors with her eyes closed


The most clinical way of achieving deep pressure therapy is by using a squeeze or a hug machine. These machines are commonly used by occupational therapists and hospitals.

The squeeze machine is a deep-pressure device invented by Dr. Temple Grandin in the 1990s. Dr. Grandin noticed cattle calmed down right after being in a squeeze chute for inoculation because it reduced their sensory input.

So, she built a squeeze machine for humans, theorizing that applying deep pressure would help limit sensory information that can overload the nervous system in humans.

Squeeze Machine

Several studies reviewed the efficacy of Grandin’s inventions and found that the squeeze machine was useful in alleviating anxiety and stress. Occupational therapists across the globe started to use this machine for patients who were dealing with anxiety or required sensory relief.

Unfortunately, the squeeze machine is too expensive and bulky for most people to have in their homes. That said, there are other options that are smaller, more cost-effective, and just as helpful. For instance, a lap pad and compression vest (weighted vest), which are often used successfully in pediatric occupational therapy with autistic children, according to the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, would deliver similar benefits.

Weighted blankets offer all the benefits of deep pressure therapy. They are comforting and easy to have in your home. Plus, they help you relax as you snuggle into bed, leading to more restful sleep so you can wake up energized the next morning.

Using Weighted Blankets for Deep Pressure Therapy

Woman smiling at the camera while lying on a bed with a blanket

With weighted blankets, you can feel the benefits of deep pressure therapy without leaving the bedroom. Weighted blankets are proven to have a calming effect that causes stress and anxiety alleviation, so you can calm down with ease. You can also find weighted throws, so you can experience DPT during the day.

They also support something called proprioception — the awareness of where your body is in space. According to scientists, this understanding is critical to coordinated movements. In other words, it’s your ability to stay balanced and not fall down.

As there are plenty of weighted blanket options out there, how do you know which weighted blanket is best for you? Here are some things to consider:

Weight and Size of the Blanket

You don’t need a huge blanket. In fact, it’s better to have a smaller blanket than one that is too big. That way, more of the blanket is on your body and not hanging off the sides. A twin-sized weighted blanket for one person is perfect. Keep in mind, you’re not swaddling yourself. You want the consistent, gentle pressure of a cozy hug.

When it comes to the weight of your blanket, the general rule is that it should be 10% of your body weight. Most weighted blanket brands offer blankets in different weights, so choose one that’s right for you. If you’re in between sizes, size down.

Material

If you are looking for a traditional or warmer option, your weighted blanket might be made of minky, cotton, linen, flannel, or fleece.

For hot sleepers and people in warmer weather, lightweight fabrics are an option too. Bamboo, cotton, and linen are more breathable, which will help you regulate your body temperature.

If you can’t decide what type of material to go for (and you’re worried that your blanket might be too warm or not warm enough), consider the 2-in-1 Hush Blanket. With this blanket, you can change the cover or your blanket to suit your current need.

This way, you can change from warm and cozy to light and cool without needing a new inner weight layer.

Experience Deep Pressure Therapy Each Night With Weighted Blankets

Smiling woman sitting on a couch with a blanket wrapped around her


Deep pressure therapy can help
you manage autism spectrum disorders and sensory modulation, or the ability to respond appropriately to sensory environments, improve your mental health, relax after a hard day, or help your child decompress after too much stimulation. 

A weighted blanket or weighted throw can give you the benefits of deep pressure therapy and look stylish on the back of your couch. They quiet your stress hormones and increase your “feel-good” hormones quickly and easily. Investing in a weighted blanket can give you quality sleep and cozy relaxation. All in all, they’re an easy way to practice self-care.

 

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