How Does A Weighted Blanket Work?
Before we dive into the benefits of weighted blankets, I want to share with you how they work. The science behind weighted blankets is that of Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) or Deep Pressure Touch (DPT). DPS is when pressure is applied by the hands, special massage tools, or a product—like a weighted blanket—that you can wrap around yourself or your child. Most people liken this effect to getting a massage (1).
When done properly, the therapy relaxes the sympathetic nervous system. Often referred to as the part of the nervous system that handles "fight or flight", it is the bodies immediate response to stressful situations (2).
DPS works to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" system) and provides the benefits of lowering your heart rate and reducing the symptoms of anxiety. Now that we have that out of the way... (3).
The Top Benefits Of Using Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets are quickly becoming a low-cost go-to method of treatment for a variety of mental health diagnoses. But can a weighted blanket treat other things? What are the benefits of using a weighted blanket? Is it worth it?
In this article, we cover 7 benefits of weighted blankets, and how to choose the right weighted blanket for you. If you've been toying with the idea of trying a weighted blanket, we hope this gives you some of the answers you've been looking for.
1. It Can Relieve Stress + Anxiety
Did you know that approximately 40 million people in the United States—that's 18% of the population—suffer from anxiety? Many people seek out therapy (either in office or online) or utilize medication to help relieve their anxiety. Weighted blankets are an effective an affordable alternative to these expensive modalities (4).
According to one study of 32 adults, 63% reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket.
Another study conducted on 30 people hospitalized in an inpatient mental health unit found that 60% of those in the study had significantly reduced anxiety. I don't know about you, but if a weighted blanket (which is a fraction of the cost of therapy) can help with my anxiety, I'm all for giving it a shot!(5, 6)
2. Evokes A Sense Of Calm
The same study showed that 78% of people preferred to use a weighted blanket as a way to help calm their anxiety. The results from another study on insomnia found that it increased a sense of calm and led to more relaxation and ability to sleep (7).
According to Penn Medicine, weighted blankets activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers your heart-rate, contributing to the feeling of calming down. Many people find that feeling enveloped or cocooned in a blanket eases their mind (8, 9).
3. Positive Impact On Mood
As mentioned earlier, deep pressure stimulation is the mechanism behind massages—and how weighted blankest work. One study showed that massage therapy increased dopamine levels by 31% and Serotonin levels increased by 28%.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to mood (motivation and reward) and plays a role in mental health disorders such as Schizophrenia and ADHD (proposed lack of dopamine). According to Healthline, dopamine is involved in almost every pleasurable experience. Increasing dopamine by 31% can have a positive impact on mood while positively impacting a plethora of other disorders(10, 11).
The Hormone Health Network notes that serotonin plays a variety of roles in the human body but it is "The key hormone that stabilizes mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness". Can you imagine the impact an increase in 28% can have on well-being (12)?
The same study showed a decrease in the cortisol levels of subjects by an average of 31%. Cortisol is the hormone that regulates the "fight or flight" response and is heavily involved in stress and anxiety. A weighted blanket is a mood altering "substance" without all the unwanted side affects that come with medications.
4. Delivers Pain Relief
Do you struggle with chronic pain? Research shows that utilizing a weighted blanket can help.
The Mayo Clinic defines Fibromyalgia as "a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues." Some research shows that painful sensations are amplified because your brain cannot process pain signals properly (13).
It is hypothesized that one contributing factor for those suffering with Fibromyalgia is low levels of serotonin. This research shows that increasing serotonin (which we've established weighted blankets can do) can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and somatic pain.
Cortisol (which regulates inflammation, among other things) tends to be lower at night, which is when people dealing with inflammatory diseases tend to have increased pain. Weighted blankets are becoming more commonly used among those who suffer with chronic pain to help combat the inability to sleep. Juvenile Arthritis News points out that many suffering swear by using weighted blankets to help ease their discomfort (14, 15).
5. Simulates A Hug
Fun fact: Hugging actually boosts your immune system and helps you from falling victim to common illnesses such as a cold. Hugs are a social greeting, a sign of affection, and a way to bond with loved ones (16)
Hugs have also been show to release oxytocin—otherwise known as the "love hormone"—which can reduce stress and anxiety. A weighted blanket mimics the effects of a hug and can release the same "feel-good" hormones (17, 18).
6. Improves Insomnia + Sleep Quality
Did you know that 60 million Americans struggle with insomnia? This study sought to show the benefits of utilizing a weighted blanket on those unable to sleep well. The results were positive—of the 31 people that participated in the study, 21 reported a positive impact on their insomnia (19, 20).
The study showed that the additional pressure of the weighted blanket provided a calming effect on the participants, decreased agitation and movement, and increased quality of sleep. If you're looking for a means to better sleep that doesn't include medication weighted blankets are a valid option.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Those who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome deal with the symptoms most predominantly in the evening and struggle with insomnia. According to the Mayo Clinic, Restless Leg Syndrome "is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation." Weighted blankets offer counter-stimulation and can help reduce the "prickly" sensation associated with RLS (21, 22).
7. Helps Manage Autism + ADHD
Remember how Deep Pressure Stimulation is the science behind how weighted blankets work? A research study at the Virginia Commonwealth University found that deep pressure may be useful for "reducing maladaptive internalizing and externalizing behaviors, increasing attention to task, and reducing impulsivity, all of which would support the client’s ability to successfully perform daily life activities and engage in appropriate social–emotional, motor, and organizational tasks" (23).
The American Journal of Occupational Therapy conducted a study on 100 children diagnoses with ADHD (The children wore weighted vests).The research found that the children showed significant improvement in inattention, speed of processing and responding, and consistency of executive management.
A study conducted by Nancy L. Vandenberg (on 4 children) found that wearing a weighted vest increased on-task behavior from 18-25%. On top of that, 3 of the 4 children asked to continue using the weighted vests (24, 25)!
How to Choose the Proper Weighted Blanket
The general rule of thumb is to purchase a weighted blanket that is approximately 10% of your weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should look at a blanket weight of 15 pounds. Most manufacturers offer different materials (cotton, quilted, cooling, etc.) that you can choose based on personal preference. For more details on what we recommend, check out our post on choosing the best weighted blanket for you!
You may also want to read our other related articles below;