Thinking of Using a Weighted Blanket? Here’s What You Need to Know

Thinking of Using a Weighted Blanket? Here’s What You Need to Know - Spirit Linen Home

Have you ever considered using a weighted blanket for sleep? Long used as a sleep aid and anxiety reducer for people with conditions including ASD, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders, weighted blankets have definitely caught the interest of the general public. I’ve had several patients ask me about how they work, and it seems like time to bring that conversation here.

Anxiety and Sleep

Anxiety is a major problem for sleep. There’s an abundant body of research that demonstrates the anxiety-sleep connection. I see anxiety wreaking havoc with my patients' sleep and I hear from many of you how stress, anxiety, and a “wired and tired” mind interfere with your ability to fall asleep and rest soundly at night. Anxiety can intrude on sleep at any age; kids have this sleep issue, as do many adults. It can occur for all kinds of reasons, from environmental and circumstantial stressors to physical and psychological conditions.

Dr. Breus' Experience with Weighted Blankets

Some time ago, Dr. Breus began working with the company Remzy to develop a weighted blanket designed to help everybody feel more calm, more able to relax in comfort, and better able to sleep. To go along with the Remzy blanket, he also developed a special web-based sleep program specifically for Remzy users. The blanket uses high-density micro beads that provide just the right amount of weight, without a lot of additional thickness. Keeping the blanket on the thinner side helps keep sleepers from getting too warm, no matter where you live or what season it is. Remzy blankets come in different sizes and with removable duvet covers that make it easy to wash and keep clean. It’s a great product I’m really proud of—you can check it out here.

What’s it like to sleep under a weighted blanket?

Many people describe the feeling of a weighted blanket as like being held in a gentle hug. Weighted blankets apply light, even pressure over the entire body. That can help keep you more still when you’re in bed and provides the soothing sensation of being gently held, which creates for many people a deep sense of relaxation and calm that makes it easier to fall asleep—and may help you sleep more soundly, with fewer restless awakenings during the night.

How do weighted blankets work?

Think about how comforting and relaxing it feels to be embraced in a good, long hug from someone you love. Think about how soothed a baby is when swaddled, or a child is when snuggled in a parent’s lap. Think about how relaxed—and often sleepy—you feel after you’ve had a massage. Touch and gently applied pressure have powerful psychological and physical effects. Eliciting those effects is what weighted blankets can do.

The evenly distributed weight added to a blanket exerts what’s known as “deep pressure stimulation.” That’s the gentle, firm pressure that can also come from massage, or other physical contact. Deep pressure stimulation lowers arousal. As research shows, deep pressure stimulation decreases the activity of the body’s sympathetic nervous system—that’s the system that promotes alertness and vigilance and responds to stressful stimuli. It’s the “fight or flight” division of the nervous system. At the same time, deep pressure stimulation increases activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is sometimes called the “rest and digest” system. When it’s activated, it lowers heart rate and blood pressure, and increases relaxation and feelings of calm.

Scientific Evidence

A 2015 study examined the effects of deep pressure stimulation from weighted blankets and found a 33 percent reduction in stress, as measured by a test of physiological signs of arousal. Among the participants, 63 percent reported feeling a decrease in anxiety, and 78 percent said they found using a weighted blanket a preferable way to increase their level of calm.

Hormonal Effects

The changes to nervous system activity that come from deep pressure stimulation are accompanied by a cascade of changes to hormones, which also contribute to lower anxiety and generate feelings of calm. These hormonal changes can also be beneficial for sleep.

  • May stimulate oxytocin: This hormone can stimulate feelings of attachment and closeness and generate a deep sense of calm. Oxytocin also plays a facilitating role in sleep. This hormone is one of several that’s involved in regulating our sleep-wake cycles.

  • Can decrease cortisol: Research shows deep pressure stimulation reduces levels of cortisol, an alerting hormone that plays a central role in the body’s stress response. The stimulating effects of cortisol make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

  • Can increase serotonin: Research also shows that deep pressure stimulation increases serotonin, a “feel-good” hormone that helps keep you in a more relaxed state, day and night. Serotonin helps to stabilize mood and regulate energy levels and also contributes to regulating sleep-wake cycles.

How to Use a Weighted Blanket

The short answer is, just like you would any other blanket! When selecting a weighted blanket, you want one that’s heavy enough to exert the pressure you need, but not so heavy that it excessively restricts your movement, feels uncomfortable, or causes you to overheat in bed. Those effects can all be counterproductive to sleep. (That’s why we determined 12 pounds of blanket weight to be optimal for anxiety relief, relaxation, and sleep.)

You may find yourself more inclined to sleep with less clothing with a weighted blanket—go for it! I’m a proponent of sleeping in the nude. (Among other benefits, it may help you stay at a healthy weight, which I wrote about recently.) Go ahead and shed some layers, and let the blanket do the work of keeping you warm and swaddled.

Don’t Forget Your Sleep Hygiene

A weighted blanket can help you to de-stress, relax, and relieve anxiety. It can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep better over the course of the night. But it can’t do ALL the work of a good night’s rest. You still need to pay attention to the basics, which are key for healthy sleep:

  • Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, with regular bedtimes and wake times
  • Avoiding too much light exposure at night
  • Not eating too heavily at night and close to bedtime
  • Consuming alcohol only moderately, and ideally not within a few hours of bed
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Managing stress and supporting mood with relaxation practices, including meditation

Let me know what you think of the weighted blanket, and how it works to help you sleep better.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™

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