What Conditions Can a Weighted Blanket Help With?
In addition to the senses of sound, smell, sight, taste, and touch, you have two senses that are less commonly talked about. The vestibular sense is your sense of movement & your sense of body awareness which is called proprioception.
It’s that sense of body awareness that weighted blanket therapy uses to help with a number of issues and disorders. It works by letting your body know its proximity and position in space by leading your muscles to react to external factors. For instance, when seated in a chair, your back is aware of whether or not it can safely and comfortably lean back, depending on whether that seat contains a back to it.
Deep pressure therapy uses proprioceptive input by adding pressure to your muscles and joints, which helps your brain grasp your body’s proximity in relation to space & can safely benefit adults and children.
How Deep Pressure Therapy Impacts Your Nervous System
Deep pressure therapy significantly influences your autonomic nervous system, or your unconscious actions. These include your heart rate, digestion, blinking, and breathing. Within that is your body’s fight or flight mechanism, or your sympathetic nervous system. It does this by releasing the hormones that raise your blood sugar, blood pressure, and breathing. Think back to when you felt really stressed or nervous. Your palms felt sweaty, your heart felt like it was pounding, and you had difficulty focusing. That was your sympathetic nervous system in action.
But there’s another part to this, as well: your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your nervous system that lets your body get relaxed by slowing your breathing, slowing your heart rate, and lowering your blood pressure. It kicks in when you enjoy those quiet, peaceful moments. For example, when you’re nodding off to sleep or cozied up on the couch with a good book and warm cup of tea, you’re feeling nice and peaceful, thanks to your parasympathetic nervous system.
Your sympathetic nervous system takes over when you feel stress, kicking in your fight or flight response. When that happens, it’s extremely difficult to get calm. As a result, your concentration, thought processes, and sleep are affected. But when you apply deep pressure therapy, your autonomic nervous system balances out. That means your fight or flight mechanism diminishes while your calming mechanism, as well as your ability to regulate your emotions, increases.
Conditions That Weighted Blankets Can Help With
Studies show that deep pressure therapy with weighted blankets directly and positively impacts behavior and mood by increasing serotonin and dopamine, aka “happy hormones,” by 28% and 31%, respectively. It also decreases your cortisol, aka “stress hormone,” by 31% - diminishing your body’s fight or flight mechanism. When these two effects work together, the result is reduced anxiety and stress, along with a boosted mood.
Panic Attacks: Panic attacks are very scary, especially if you’ve never had one before. The stress of a job interview, speaking in public, or other life challenges can trigger one. Symptoms include accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, tightening of the chest, trembling, and dizziness, among others. Once you start to panic, those symptoms kick in within 10 minutes. They can dissipate quickly or last up to an hour.
Weighted blankets offer a drug-free treatment for panic attacks. When the person suffering with the condition is covered with or wrapped in one that’s 7-12% of their weight, its deep pressure therapy kicks in. With that, the stress hormone activating that extreme fight or flight mechanism decreases. As a result, they begin to feel calm and relaxed.
Anxiety: People suffering from anxiety usually can’t let go of worry. So much so, it interferes with their daily lives. Like panic attacks, anxiety disorders can even lead to accelerated heart rate, trembling, and hyperventilation.
Weighted blankets can be used alone or with additional methods to treat anxiety disorders. When used as a cover while sleeping, the blanket’s pressure therapy kicks in to soothe and break the anxiety cycle. It allows for a restful night’s sleep, so the body’s hormones are balanced for an anxiety-free day.
Sleep Disorders: Throughout the 24-hour cycle, your body produces the hormone that dictate when you go to sleep and wake up. The hormone, Melatonin, controls this daily cycle and maintains your body’s internal clock.
Cortisol also influences your internal clock, with more produced throughout the day before tapering off close to your bedtime. But stress can keep those cortisol levels high, blocking production of Melatonin. As a result, your sleep schedule becomes upset.
Deep pressure therapy corrects your internal clock by helping your body restore its normal production of Melatonin and cortisol, so you can once again fall asleep when you go to bed.
The bonus is that deep pressure therapy works without any side effects, unlike medications.
Depression: According to the national institute of mental health, major depression is one of the most common forms in mental illness in the nation. It’s defined as a period of at least two weeks in which a person is in a depressed mood or loses interest or pleasure. With this comes an alteration in function, with sufferers having low energy, low self-image, recurring thoughts of suicide or death, problems eating, and problems sleeping.
Depression can also come in other forms.
- Persistent Depression: Is less severe but can last more than two years.
- Postpartum Depression: Occurs in women any time within a year after delivering a baby. It brings with it a sense of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, a sense of worthlessness, crying, loss of interest in the baby, and loss of appetite.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: Is also known as seasonal depression. It usually occurs in the fall and winter seasons, when the days are shorter. Although the exact cause of sad is not known, it is more common in women and those who have a family history of depression. Research also links a chemical hormone imbalance to sad. The symptoms include lethargy, irritability, sadness, grim outlook, inability to enjoy former interests, weight gain and crave of carbohydrates, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Fortunately, deep pressure therapy with a weighted blanket can help with each form of depression. This therapy boosts the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin, the happy hormones. As a result, the sufferer’s mood stabilizes, and the symptoms diminish. Researchers recommend using it as a first step in therapy, as well as in tandem with medication when needed.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after a person undergoes a traumatic event. Such events can range from natural disaster, violent assault, or military combat. But that’s not always the case, because it can also show up much later. When it does, fear, stress, and lack of sleep due to nightmares and flashbacks adversely impact the victim’s daily life.
Deep pressure therapy with a weighted blanket can be an effective part of treatment, which can also include group therapy and medication. Draping a weighted blanket over the victim when traumatic thoughts strike weakens those thoughts and eases muscle tension and fosters the production of serotonin, which turns to Melatonin and encourages relaxation and sleep.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADD and ADHD are neurobehavioral disorders characterized by the inability to pay attention, as well as disruptive impulsive behavior. It’s usually recognized in children when they are constantly distracted, talk excessively, fidget, and have severe mood swings. It's also associated with sleep depravity.
Deep pressure therapy with a weighted blanket helps settle hyperactivity by soothing the body and easing disturbances associated with the disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder: This condition is the result of the central nervous system’s failure to normally interpret sensory signals. Sufferers are either over or under responsive to sensory stimulation, or both. A weighted blanket can soothe and comfort the sufferer by adding pressure that provides sensory input, so they can relax.
Tourette’s Syndrome: This is a neurological disorder, with symptoms showing up around age 18. Symptoms include uncontrollable physical motions or tics, which fatigue muscles and create anxiety from public perception. A weighted blanket uses deep pressure therapy to relieve muscle tension and anxiety by aiding the release of serotonin. This calms the sufferer and lifts their mood.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): Restless leg syndrome causes uncomfortable sensations in a person’s legs and even their arm or torso. It can coexist with such illnesses as Parkinson’s, or stem from heredity, pregnancy, or iron deficiency. Regardless of the cause, the tingling sensation often makes getting a good night’s sleep difficult.
A weighted blanket uses deep pressure therapy to soothe aches and pains that come with RLS, while also calming the sufferer’s mind. As a result they can get a good night’s sleep needed to function throughout the day.
Autism: Individuals who register on the autism spectrum typically have difficulty communicating lack social skills, display slow cognitive development, and display repetitive behaviors and actions. Symptoms are noticeable as early as 18 months of age.
Fortunately, a weighted blanket can help manage common characteristics of ASD. The deep pressure touch encourages serotonin production, which positively influences mood, memory, cognition, sleep, and appetite. Draping a weighted blanket over the shoulders or lap of a person with autism throughout the day can help them feel more secure and calm.