Benefits of Weighted Blankets
Using Weighted Blankets for Anxiety, Autism, And More
Therapists and psychiatry clinics have long known the benefits of weighted blankets. Occupational therapists recommend the use of these blankets to help people with autism or other anxiety disorders to focus on sensory experiences. Experts say that that this type of therapy may boost these individuals’ ability to regulate their emotions and behavior. Many parents have observed that this weighted item can calm children with autism and sensory issues.
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What is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket is simply just what it sounds like. It is a blanket with extra weight in it. The weight varies based on who uses it. The rule of thumb for determining the right weight is 10% of the person’s body weight plus a pound or two. To illustrate, a 3-year-old who weights 40 pounds needs to have a 5-pound blanket.
Weighted Blanket Weight Chart
One of the often overlooked benefits of weighted blankets is that it works for both children and adults. When choosing one, just make sure that you pick the right weight. Here’s a Weighted Blanket Weight Chart that you can use as a handy reference.
Choosing the right weighted blanket, however, is also a matter of preference. A person may prefer a blanket that is not within the recommended range. He may feel more comfortable with a blanket that is heavier or lighter than the recommended weight.
Weighted blankets come in various shapes and sizes. They can be made from a variety of fabrics and fillers. Weighted blankets are usually filled with polypropylene (PP) cotton and poly pellet beads to get them up to the proper weight. Other brands use food, such as rice or barley, to fill blankets. A blanket that is made from breathable 100 percent cotton is cooler, compared to one that is made of polyester and other synthetic fabrics. The benefits of weighted blankets
Weighted blankets are not for everyone. They may add some heat as well as weight. Before using a weighted blanket, you should discuss it with your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:
- a chronic health condition
- going through menopause
- circulation issues
- respiration issues
- temperature regulation issues
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What is the Science Behind a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets are essentially an application of deep touch pressure (DTP). This can be accomplished by hugs, massages, weighted compression vests and weighted blankets. DTP is basically gently applying pressure to the body to increase the release of serotonin.
Serotonin is a chemical compound primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), blood platelets, and the central nervous system of animals, including humans. It is popularly thought to promote relaxation and contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness. Children with autism tend to have low levels of serotonin. This is true as well with children who have depression, anxiety, aggression, ODC, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. The effect of deep touch pressure is much more remarkable in children with autism. But DPT works for most people.
So gently applying pressure to the body releases serotonin, a chemical which promotes relaxation. A weighted blanket is one way that pressure is gently applied to the body. Other ways include weighted compression vests, lap pads, and sensory body socks. These can all be used in different scenarios to take advantage of the benefits of deep touch pressure.
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What are the Benefits of Weighted Blankets?
Following are some of the benefits of weighted blankets. These are not just anecdotal stories, however. The benefits presented here are the results of weighted blanket research and studies performed by experts.
1. They Reduce Anxiety
This is the dominant theme of all the benefits of weighted blankets. A study published in 2008 showed that weighted blankets reduce anxiety. Another study focused on dental patients who used weighted blankets as a way to reduce their anxiety during extraction of a wisdom tooth. The study recorded the physiological changes in the patients’ nervous system, which helped them feel calmer during the high-anxiety situation. Yet another study found that even short periods of deep touch pressure brought about a calming down effect.
All these studies suggest that weighted blankets for anxiety in both children and adults might not be a bad recommendation.
Since research and studies consistently show that weighted blankets improve serotonin production, they can also be used to help alleviate OCD anxiety as well. People with disorders that are related to low serotonin levels, such as depression, aggression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder can all benefit from the use of weighted blankets.
2. They promote and improve sleep.
The primary benefit of weighted blankets is that they promote and improve sleep. As explained above, using weighted blankets increases the level of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is necessary to create melatonin, another chemical that tells your body when it is time to sleep. The body produces melatonin at night, with the highest levels measured between midnight and 8:00 am.
Changes also take place in the nervous system when using weighted blankets. The nervous system calms down under the weight of a heavy blanket. This can be a major help for people who cannot sleep due to anxiety.
The weight of the blanket also helps reduce sleep restlessness. A blanket of the right weight restricts movement during sleep.
A weighted blanket could perhaps be a non-medicinal way of addressing insomnia. A study found that participants with insomnia got better quality sleep when they used weighted blankets. Not only that, they also reported that they felt like they got a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.
3. They Help in Calming Meltdowns
One of the important benefits of weighted blankets is that it helps in calming meltdowns. Meltdowns are something that a child with special needs will most likely exhibit. These meltdowns can be very difficult to deal with, whether they are due to sensory overload or an unexpected change.
Fortunately, much of what has been discussed so far can be related to meltdowns. Weighted blankets can help wind down a meltdown or even prevent it. This can be accomplished by calming the nervous system, producing serotonin, or by simply providing a feeling of a “hug”.
A study mentions that patients who used weighted blankets reported significantly greater reductions in distress and anxiety than those who did not.
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4. They Make Transitions Easier
Another one of the important benefits of weighted blankets is that it helps in making transitions easier. Teachers and parents of children with autism often struggle to get them to change from one activity to another. In some special education classrooms, teachers use weighted blankets to help make this transition easier. This works especially well when children come in from recess. The teachers give the children who need extra help a weighted blanket. They also dim the lights for five to ten minutes.
The University of Washington Autism Center implements this, along with other practices, in schools around the state of Washington. This same strategy can be used at home for when a child comes home from school or inside from playing, or has just finished an activity and is trilling from overexcitement. Because children with autism tend to do better with transitions when they have a routine, the weighted blanket can become part of the routine. Parents should let the children know that when they bring out the weighted blanket, it is time to transition.
5. They Can Improve Focus
Weighted blankets are, of course, usually put on beds. It is natural that the benefits discussed so far are about sleep and, calming down, and relaxing at night. But some studies adapted the weighted idea to work during the day. One study involved students with documented attention difficulties and hyperactivity and timed to measure their own task behavior. Instead of a weighted blanket, they wore a weighted vest, which provides the same effects as a weighted blanket. The study found that the kids’ ability to stay on task increased by 18 to 25 percent.
Another study confirmed these results. Its participants showed significant improvement in in-seat behavior, task completion speed and attention to task while they were wearing weighted vests. Both these studies show that people, particularly those with attention difficulties like ADD and ADHD, can improve their focus by using a weighted vest.
6. They Are Non-Medicinal
Medication is a thoroughly valuable and legitimate method of treating disorders. If you are struggling with mental illness, you should discuss a treatment plan with a doctor. But for many reasons, some people are not able to or do not want to take psychiatric medications. In these cases, weighted blankets can be a viable alternative to help mitigate some symptoms. If you cannot take medication, speak to your doctor and see if a weighted blanket can become part of your treatment plan.
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Choosing the Right Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets are readily available on the market. Most can be ordered online. They are a bit of an investment, however. Prices range from $100 to $300. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure that you choose one that fits your needs.
The first question you want to ask is how to choose the right size of a weighted blanket. As mentioned above, the rule of thumb for this is 10% of your body weight plus a pound or two. Please refer to the Weighted Blanket Weight Chart above.
You’ll also want to look at the filling of the blanket. Weighted blankets that use food like rice or barley might not sit well with persons who have allergies or sensitivities. A blanket with a more neutral filling would be a better fit for such persons.
Next to consider is the design of the blanket. Is the blanket easy to wash? Is the weight evenly distributed into sections? Does the weight stay fixed in one section or do they slide about from one side to another?
You’ll also need to look at the dimensions. A weighted blanket should be smaller than the size of the bed. It is supposed to sit on top of the bed, so it should be big enough not to slide off to one side.
Weighted blankets are important tools for mitigating symptoms of anxiety and stress-related conditions. There are many benefits of weighted blankets. The main ones discussed here are all backed by scientific research. Given the many scientifically-backed benefits of weighted blankets, investing on one is certainly a wise decision.