A weighted blanket (or gravity blanket with its other name) is a sleeping and therapy product made especially “heavy” using glass bead filling. It is prescribed by doctors in some countries due to its proven positive effects. This blanket is made to weigh between 7% and 15% of your body weight.
The first weighted blanket was used in scientific studies in the 1990s, and the first commercial production started in 2000 under the name “Beanie Blanket”. Today, millions of it are being sold worldwide but is it really worth the relatively high price? Let’s take a closer look.
What is it for?
If you’ve ever heard of deep pressure therapy, you can tell how it works. The weighted blanket helps to reduce stress levels by creating a feeling of “deep pressure”, providing a sense of calmness and relaxation. This product mimics the feeling of being hugged, resulting in deeper sleep for many people.
A scientific overview
Gentle pressure and touch applied to the body is known to have positive psychological effects. These effects are the starting point for the therapy known as “deep pressure stimulation”. Deep pressure stimulation reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which responds to stress stimuli. When the sympathetic system is overactive, it is difficult to fall asleep, and even if you sleep the quality of it will be poor. The weighted blanket is used to reduce the activity of this system.
Relationship between weighted blanket and hormones
Firstly, these special-design blankets are thought to stimulate oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that can boost feelings of attachment and closeness and create a deep sense of calm. It plays a number of roles in the body, from promoting sexual arousal to encouraging parent-child bonding to strengthening emotional memories. It is involved in regulating our sleep-wake cycles. Oxytocin levels rise during sleep and typically peak during REM (deep sleep) periods.
Other hormones associated with heavy blanket use are cortisol and serotonin. These hormones act as the opposite of each other. When a person is under stress, cortisol levels are high and serotonin levels are low. When the person feels safe, cortisol levels decrease and serotonin levels increase. Cortisol, which increases with the stress we experience during the day, makes it difficult to fall asleep and impairs sleep quality. The mild pressure of a heavy blanket can help to naturally suppress this stimulating hormone. Serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, is the hormone that tells the body to “calm down, not worry, relax”. It has been observed that the deep pressure of a heavy blanket increases serotonin and decreases cortisol.
In which cases is weighted blanket used?
Weighted blanket can be used to support therapy and improve quality of life in the following cases:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity
- Anxiety (Anxiety Disorder)
- Osteoatritis (Calcification)
- Chronic Pain
- Restless Legs Syndrome
Who should not use it?
Unfortunately, a weighted blanket is not for everyone. Sometimes, its positive effects on sleep quality and calmness may be less than its disadvantages. For example, babies before 2 shall not use these heavy blankets as the weight can injure them. Also, people with these issues shall not use a weighted blanket:
- Breathing difficulties (like asthma or sleep-apnea),
- Circulatory diseases,
- Low blood pressure,
- Skin sensitivity
- Mobility problems,
- Type 2 diabetes.