Weighted Blankets Demystified

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Right now there’s a smooshed pile of navy blue velvety fabric lying next to me. It looks like any other blanket, but try to nudge it with your foot, and you’ll be in for a surprise when it doesn’t budge! Like other weighted blankets, this unassuming covering carries some serious impact—15 pounds to be exact. And, yes, my family has one because I jumped on the weighted blanket bandwagon. If you haven’t noticed, mainstream consumers are quickly buying up these heavy coverings in droves.

A quick read of current headlines reveals the most likely reason for such growing interest in these unique blankets: “A Lot of Americans Are More Anxious Than They Were Last Year” (TIME, May 2018) and “Americans Are Stressed Out, and It Is Getting Worse” (Psychology Today, November 2018). Plus, the American Psychological Association released the results of their annual stress survey in late 2018, finding that up to 90% of high school and college-aged students report that they experience stress symptoms in their regular lives. So, with promises of better sleep and reduced anxiety largely driving the weighted blanket trend, a holistic, natural stress reducer is an attractive option!

But do they really work, and if so, how? We broke it down for you so you can decide whether a weighted blanket is in your future.

Why the weight?

According to Annetta Stolvoort, an Occupational Therapy Assistant providing care at The Summit Health and Rehab in Wyndhurst, the weight in these blankets provides “constant, deep pressure” when you place one on top of your body. Having used one, I can say that the weight can be strange at first and somewhat restricts quick movements. But the reason for this pressure is that it “triggers the part of your nervous system that is responsible for rest and relaxation—the parasympathetic nervous system” to be exact, Stolvoort explains. Similar to the calm, warm feeling you may experience after a long hug with a loved one, weighted blankets cause your brain “to release the ‘feel good’ hormones of dopamine and serotonin,” Stolvoort says, “making you feel more attentive and restful.” Psychology Today says that weighted blankets provide the sensation of a “cocoon” and “reassuring” feelings; they essentially counteract over-stimulation with their firm and consistent pressure. The result is a stronger sense of wellbeing and peacefulness.

And the benefits are?

“The use of weighted blankets has helped the general population of both kids and adults with reducing stress,” Stolvoort says. Historically, they have been effective in helping kids with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or anxiety-related issues because having this weighted pressure over the body can “help reduce instances of aggression through the calming effect it has on the brain and body.” Stolvoort currently uses the blankets with her elderly patients who have dementia because “the added pressure of a weighted blanket on their laps or around their shoulders provides sensory input through the muscles and joints to their brains that can have a calming effect.” She adds that if the blanket is also slightly heated it provides an “added sensory bonus.” Psychology Today says that weighted blankets could help those who suffer from insomnia though more studies are needed to support the currently anecdotal evidence. Psychology Today also reports that many studies support the benefits of touch or pressure in “lowering blood pressure, heart rate … and the stress hormone, cortisol.” Additionally, Psychology Today reports, “Touch strengthens our immune system [and]boosts blood circulation.”

Ready to try it?

The Strategist, an off-shoot of New York Magazine, recommends choosing a blanket that is 7 to 12 percent of your body weight. That means a 150-pound individual would look for a blanket that’s 15 pounds, which is one of the popular sizes. With all of the growing consumer interest, options abound. But like most purchases, quality does matter. Consider weighted blankets made with durable fabric or even removable covers for easy washing. The weighted filler should be evenly distributed, which is why most blankets have a grid-like appearance. Average costs, according to The Strategist, run from $65-$85, and most retailers carry a selection of sizes and colors.

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