Can a Weighted Blanket Help Anxiety?
Weighted blankets have been used for years with children with developmental disabilities and autism as a way to help them regulate their feelings. It’s only been fairly recently that people have started looking to them for help with anxiety.
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are pretty much what they sound like- they’re blankets that have pockets sewed into them that hold some sort of object that adds weight to the overall blanket. Mostly, plastic pellets or flatter glass beads are used in their manufacturing these days, but traditionally beans, rice, or small rocks were used.
But do they really work?
What Does the Research Say?
Well, there really has been very little research on this issue, and most of what was done is anecdotal in nature. What this means is that the studies are based on people’s stories and reported experiences and lack the safeguards of empirical research. However, a review of studies done by the Journal of Occupational Therapists reports that overall weighted blankets are effective in combating anxiety and insomnia.
A specific study done in Sweden in 2015 over the course of 2 weeks showed that weighted blankets are helpful in complimenting treatment of insomnia and anxiety. They showed a 63% reduction in self-reported anxiety, and 78% of the participants reported an increased feeling of calmness
Another study showed that there was not a significant effect on either insomnia or anxiety, but, and this is interesting, the participants really liked the blankets and thought that using them helped them to feel calmer.
There are no studies that show any harm caused by the use of these blankets, so you really have nothing to lose if you want to try it. Just make sure that you find the correct weight for your body because potentially these blankets could affect your breathing or ability to roll over if too heavy, and an inability to roll is linked with skin breakdown in people who are at risk for this such as the elderly or people with circulation problems. If you have any medical problems, you should check with your doctor prior to starting to use weighted blankets for this reason.
What Does a Weighted Blanket Do?
Again, there have not been a lot of studies done on this topic, but there are several different theories out there. Here are a few of them:
The first idea is that using a weighted blanket provides overall Deep Pressure Touch (DBT) which in essence provides grounding to the person using it. This helps to calm down the fight or flight response, making the person feel calmer and reducing anxiety.
Another idea is that the blanket reduces the production of cortisol which is the stress hormone that increases when we’re feeling stressed or distressed. Cortisol helps the body by increasing the glucose that is available in the body and brain to increase its ability to repair itself in case of injury. Cortisol does have a number of negative side effects associated with it which include anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and decreased concentration. You can see how decreasing the amount of cortisol might help decrease anxiety.
The third theory is that the use of a weighted blanket can lead to the release of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essentially a chemical that aids in the transmission of messages between the nerves in our bodies. It is generally thought to play a role in stabilizing our emotions, improving sleep (as a precursor to Melatonin which is what makes us feel sleepy), and improving our mood. It is generally thought to be important to feeling good and living longer.
And finally, the use of a weighted blanket is believed to release Oxytocin in our body, which is a hormone most associated with initiating labor in women and with lactation. However, it also has multiple effects on the brain and is known as the “love hormone” because it can affect sexual arousal, recognition, trust, romantic attachment, and mother-child bonding. Current studies are looking at its effects on addiction, depression, PTSD, anorexia, and anxiety.
How to Find a Blanket
These blankets have become very easy to find. There are multiple specialty companies selling them just a quick Google search away, or you can even find several options on Amazon. Just be aware when buying one that the extra weight added to the blanket adds extra pressure on the seams and construction of it, so try to find a quality blanket in your price range. The added weight can also make the blanket feel warmer, so try to find one made with natural materials such as cotton or bamboo.
Another important thing to look for in weighted blankets is one that has the weight evenly distributed throughout. It will not have the same benefits if the weight all bunches in one area on your body!
How Heavy Should it be?
Weighted blankets come in a wide range of weights from about 4lbs to 40lbs, so how do you know which one is right for you? A good rule of thumb is that you will need a blanket that is approximately 10% of your body weight, so if you weigh 150lbs, your blanket should be 15 lbs, give or take. I say give or take, because you also need to find a blanket that feels comfortable to you, so although the 10% rule might tell you to buy a 15lb blanket if that feels too heavy and you feel like you can’t move or are suffocating, then it is too heavy, and you need to go lighter. Because of this, a blanket that allows you to adjust its weight might be your best bet.
An Adjunct to Treatment
Just a final reminder that these blankets are best used along with other treatments for anxiety. If you are interested in getting anxiety treatment, please click the link to contact me today.