Weighted blankets first appeared many years ago in doctor’s and therapist’s offices. They are frequently used in the treatment of people suffering from depression, anxiety, autism, ADD and ADHD, and sensory processing disorders. Although scientific research studies have different results, and sometimes no results at all, these weighted bed or lap blankets, vests, and wraps are often recommended for these problems.
The Science Behind the Weighted Blanket
The pressure caused by sitting or lying under one of these blankets does a few things that can be helpful for anxiety, autism, and sensory processing problems that often accompanies it.
Cozy and Comfortable Feeling – Getting wrapped up in a blanket feels good for many people. It is a safe and warm experience that could hearken back to times they felt protected when they were younger. For anxiety sufferers, sometimes the physical barrier between themselves and the world helps alleviate some of the negative feelings.
The Power of a Hug – Hugs have been scientifically shown to improve people’s moods and trigger brain chemistry responses. Doctors and researchers sometimes use hug machines to sooth patients or test if the pressure provides positive results.
A weighted blanket wrapped around you can mimic the feeling of a hug. Actual hugs trigger the body to release oxytocin naturally. This hormone usually shows up during times of emotional closeness and bonding, and makes people feel good and protected.
Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS) – Wrapping up in something can help, but it is the weight of the cover itself that provides what is called deep pressure touch stimulation. This is much like the feeling you get from a professional massage. While having a stranger manipulate your body can be horrible for someone with anxiety or sensory issues, a blanket is safe and perfectly controllable.
The deep pressure helps to desensitize an extreme nervous response and stops them from over-reacting to gentle stimulus. For people with sensory processing disorders characterized by lower sensitivity, the heavy blanket provides a positive sensation they can feel and manipulate themselves.
Trigger the Body’s Natural Chemicals – Besides oxytocin, other feel good chemicals and hormones are triggered by using a weighted blanket. The brain releases serotonin, a stress-reducing hormone, when pressure is applied. This in turn is used to create melatonin, which helps people relax and have restful sleep. Since people with anxiety and other disorders marked by uneven brain chemistry responses frequently suffer from poor sleep or insomnia, this is another avenue that weighted blankets can help with.
Research continues about how much weighted blankets can help people with sensory processing issues, autism, anxiety, and other disorders. It extends to figuring out how much they can help people without any diagnosed problems as well. The science seems compelling, and the anecdotal evidence of many consumers who buy and use these blankets even more so. If thousands of people report feeling great, sleeping better, and reducing stress just by cuddling under a weighted blanket on the couch or in bed, perhaps it is worth a chance by you.