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Does a Weighted Blanket Help with Sleep

One of the simplest pleasures of life is also one of the greatest – a long night of deep, uninterrupted sleep.   Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is a pleasure that as many as 1 in 3 adults don’t get to enjoy according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

What qualifies as a “good night’s sleep”? 
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The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society says that in order to stay physically and mentally healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 60 should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.  

But while the amount of time you sleep is important, the kind of sleep you experience is just as vital.   Getting through the various stages of the “sleep cycle” several times during the night is essential.  

  • Latency Sleep:  This stage is the time it takes you to get to sleep from the moment you slip into bed until you actually drift off.  It could be minutes – or worst case, hours.
  • Stage One:  This stage begins within a few minutes or even seconds of finally falling asleep and lasts only about 7 minutes.  It’s a time of light “cat nap” sleep when you’re still fairly alert and can be easily woken up.
  • Stage Two:  During this relatively light sleep stage, your brain waves slow down but spike in frequency. This is the stage you’re in when you’re having a “power nap”.
  • Stage Three:  In this stage, you start falling into a deep sleep. Your body becomes still and your eye movements stop.  At this point you’re well into dreamland. You stop paying attention to things around you so it’s harder to be woken up.
  • Stage Four:  This is where the restorative power of sleep kicks in. You fall even deeper into a state where it’s very difficult for you to be woken up.  It’s during this period that your body takes the time to repair tissue and muscle, increase immunity, generate growth and development and “recharges your batteries” so you’ll be alert and energized the next day.
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep:  About 90 minutes after you first doze off you generally move into REM sleep when your body is in a deep sleep but your mind is “awake” with increased brain activity. 

    This is when most dreaming happens.  Your eyes dart back and forth under your eyelids as if following some action.    Your heart rate and blood pressure increase.  Your breathing becomes irregular, fast, and shallow. The frequency of REM sleep varies from infancy to old age, but an average adult has five to six REM cycles each night.

REM sleep plays an important role in learning and memory. This is when your brain processes information and experiences from the day before and stores it in your long-term memory.  As critical as processing and storing information function is, even more important is the fact that you have to get to REM sleep to feel rested.  People who have trouble falling or staying asleep for the hour to hour and a half until REM begins don’t experience truly restorative, healthy sleep.

 

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

Insomnia or even just not getting that minimum 7 hours of regular sleep cycle rest, can do a lot more harm than just make you drowsy and cranky the next day.  People who don’t get enough sleep have an increased risk of developing all kinds of chronic health conditions, mental and emotional issues, as well as other side effects that can negatively affect your quality of life.

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  • Life-Threatening Health Conditions – Not sleeping well over a long period of time depresses immunity and can increase your chances of getting sick and cause or worsen serious health conditions.  According to some estimates, 90% of people who have trouble sleeping also suffer from conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Weight Gain – Chances are if you’re losing sleep, you’re gaining weight. Lack of sleep can actually make you hungrier than usual and crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.  In fact, a 2004 study found that people who slept less than 6 hours a day were nearly 30% more likely to become obese than those who slumbered 7 to 9 hours.
  • Decreased Mental Sharpness – Not getting enough sleep makes it harder to pay attention, stay alert, concentrate, reason, and solve problems.  And because memories and experiences of the day are consolidated during sleep, sleeplessness makes it harder to remember things. 
  • Depression - Sleep loss often makes the symptoms of depression worse, and depression can make it more difficult to fall asleep. The good news is that improving sleep can break that vicious cycle.
  • Less Interest in Sex - Whether you’re old or young, lack of sleep can be a libido killer.  A new study followed nearly 4,000 men and women in their early to mid 60s for a year.   Researchers found the men who were poor sleepers experienced more erectile dysfunction and women had problems with arousal and orgasm. But no matter what your age, not getting enough sleep lowers testosterone levels and depresses sexual desire.
  • Aged Appearance – As bad as lack of sleep can make you feel, it can make you look even worse.  Sallow skin and puffy eyes are just the beginning.  Over time, your skin will start to look dull, fine lines will deepen, and you’ll develop dark circles under your eyes.    The release of more cortisol (stress hormones) will make your skin less smooth and elastic. The the decrease in human growth hormone produced during sleep will prevent rejuvenating tissue repair.   All that combined can make you look decades older than you would if you were getting enough sleep.

 

 Ways to get a good night’s sleep:

So obviously, getting enough deep restful sleep is essential to everyone’s health and mental wellbeing. But how to go about getting it?

Insomnia is as old as mankind – and so are the various ways of trying to cure it. 

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  • Prescription Drugs:  In addition to the potential of being habit-forming, many drugs have unpleasant side effects like burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs, constipation, diarrhea, balance issues, dizziness, Dry mouth and more.
  • Natural Remedies:  Some people find a cup of chamomile tea or hot bath relaxing before bed time.  Others swear by regular exercise at the gym.  And many take supplements like Melatonin, Valerian Root or Magnesium.
  • Mindful Meditation:  Many recommend at least 15 minutes a day of slow steady breathing paired with observations of your breath, body, thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Unfortunately, it has the potential to bring up upsetting emotions.  
  • Massage: Results of a 2015 study found that massage helped improve sleep quality and daytime dysfunction as well as reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. But at an average of $100 an hour it may be financially impractical for frequent long-term treatment.

So, what if you’re concerned about prescription drug and supplement use?  Wary of the downsides of meditation?  Don’t have a celebrity’s budget for daily massages?  And hate going to the gym?

Consider a weighted blanket as an easy, natural, affordable, sleep-aid solution.

There’s a reason adult weighted blankets and weighted blankets for kids as a way to promote deep healthy sleep have become so popular over the past few years.  

People who use them seem to feel that they work – and there is research that appears to back up the many positive reviews of washable weighted blankets you can find online. 

In fact, a study on the effects of heavy weighted blankets on insomnia published by the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders found objective evidence that “sleep bout time increased” for subjects who used weighted blankets and that there was “a decrease in movements of participants during weighted blanket use.”

The same study also reported that participants said they enjoyed sleeping under a weighted blanket because it made it easier to settle down and relax at bedtime.  They also reported that the quality of their sleep improved and said they felt more refreshed the next day. The study concluded that weighted blankets “may provide an innovative, non-pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality”.

That last sentence is key for people who are concerned about the possible addictive dangers and unpleasant side effects of prescription drugs.  It’s also a positive because it means that you may use a 10 lb weighted blanket, a 15 lb weighted blanket or a 20 lb weighted blanket in addition to other natural strategies to improve sleep.

So, if you’re looking for an easy, low impact way to help you get to sleep and stay asleep as long as possible, a cozy, comfortable, cooling weighted blanket might be the best option for you.