By Alane Stieglitz, ND, CNC
“In psychiatric care, a weighted blanket is one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control,” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H.
“These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, a weighted blanket helps us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter, even in summer.
If you want to try a weighted blanket, the best weight depends on your body size and personal preference. However, 15 to 30 pounds is typical for adults. “Input from a doctor or occupational therapist is advised for elderly individuals and anyone with a medical condition,” Moore says. She adds that weighted blankets are not recommended for people with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problems or those recovering from surgery.
A weighted blanket has been shown to increase serotonin in the body. Serotonin is an important chemical that helps regulate mood and ease relaxation. It’s been shown that children with autism are low in serotonin. This could be one of the reasons why they see so much benefit from weighted blankets.
Serotonin is necessary to create melatonin, a chemical that tells your body when it’s time to sleep. Your body produces melatonin based on the timing of your sunlight exposure and uses that as a schedule to help your body know when it’s time to relax. Serotonin can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
A weighted blanket and vests have been around as a therapy tool for a while now. Many parents have observed the calming effect they can have on children with autism and sensory issues. The science behind these weighted items is called Deep Touch Pressure (DTP). This is the term for the feeling of gentle, distributed weight on the body.
You can get the benefits of DTP in a variety of ways. Hugging is one way that everyone can experience DTP. Weighted vests, blankets, stuffed animals, or lap pads are all ways to get the benefits of DTP. As long as there is a gentle, distributed weight, there will be benefits from DTP.
Research into the benefits of DTP can help you find new ways to help your child with weighted items. It may also help convince your child’s school to take these tools seriously and make them part of your child’s behavior plan.
On top of the chemical changes, there are changes in the nervous system when using a weighted blanket. Our nervous systems calm down when under the weight of a heavy blanket. This can be a significant help for those who can’t fall asleep due to anxiety or an illness.
The weight of the blanket also helps reduce restlessness during sleep. It is harder to move around while under a blanket of the right weight. The general rule is that the weight of the blanket should be 10 percent of the individual’s body weight plus a pound or two.
A weighted blanket could perhaps be the non-pharmaceutical answer to getting a solid night’s sleep for those struggling with insomnia. One study found that not only did participants with insomnia feel like they got “a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep,” but the data from tracking their sleep showed they got better sleep as well.
Weighted vests have been found to reduce self-stimulatory behaviors, also known as fidgeting or stimming. There are many reasons why a person might engage in self-stimulatory behavior, but one of the main reasons is feeling sensory overload.
A weighted blanket is an excellent addition to a sensory room, whether used in therapy or home. The extra weight adds a sensory input that allows people to feel their bodies—for those with sensory issues, not feeling where your body ends can be a challenge.
Serotonin, Dopamine, and GABA levels need to be optimal for you to get a good night’s sleep and for anxiety to be reduced. The gut-to-brain connection needs to be optimal too. If your gut is not healthy, your brain will not feel its best, contributing to symptoms like anxiety.
Consider doing some testing to learn what YOUR neurotransmitter levels are.
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Medical disclaimer: Our tests cannot be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. All test results are to be used as educational materials and as a guide to help support your overall health and wellness. Always discuss health concerns with your medical doctor.