Weighted blankets continue to trend upwards and make their way in more and more bedrooms. A simple search on Amazon shows you the huge market of weighted blankets and the boom of many different companies looking to promote their product.
Even without understanding the science behind a weighted blanket, we can all understand the concept, in which it applies pressure therapy much like a hug or an embrace… and we all know the comfort we feel with that.
As weighted blankets continue to flow in the market, more research is being done on the effectiveness of weighted blankets for people with certain conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
Occupational therapists are starting to see the various usages of weighted blankets for their patients specifically for sensory integration therapy.
Read below to learn more about how researchers are bringing to light the science behind weighted blankets and if it holds any weight (no pun intended).
The concept of a weighted blanket is pretty self-explanatory. They’re blankets stuffed with pellets—usually made of glass or a plastic like polyethylene—and can weigh as much as 25 pounds. You can readily find one online for around $150, though they’re simple enough to make that you can find plenty of DIY guides for making your own at a fraction of that price.
Weighted blankets capture the cozy feeling of waking up under a heavy comforter on a winter’s day. And there’s some scientific theory behind the idea: applying pressure to your skin stimulates neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin that calm your brain. It’s a principle called deep pressure.
But some weighted blanket companies go even further with their claims. One blanket brand, Gravity, raised $3 million on Kickstarter proclaiming that it could treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, statements that violated Kickstarter’s own rules. Which raises the question: do those claims have merit?
Occupational therapists frequently use weighted blankets for something called sensory integration therapy, which children who have trouble processing their senses—a trait that’s often linked with autism. Weighted blankets stimulate those patients’ senses of touch, helping their brains adapt to it. It’s thought this can help them better control their emotions and boost their mental health.
At least in the US, they’re also increasingly used in places like psychiatric wards, where they’re used as an alternative to other, more traditional methods such as medication or physical restraints.
“I watched people who were going to be put into restraints not have to be put into restraints because we offered them the blankets first,” says Annette Becklund, a therapist who has worked extensively in mental health hospitals.
Kathryn Eron, a mental health researcher at Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado, says that their mental health facilities have been using blankets as an alternative to medication. “Usually the patients that have a higher level of anxiety like [a weighted blanket] and want to use it,” says Ashlie Watters, a researcher at Denver Health specializing in eating disorders. “Anecdotally, they say it is helpful.”
Stories like that have inspired researchers to begin investigating the effects of weighted blankets in a more methodical way.
There’s a lot of anecdotes in favor of weighted blankets, but only in the last decade or so have researchers become more interested in examining how well they actually work. From that small but growing volume of research, there’s budding evidence that they do help relieve anxiety.
Becklund and two researchers from Saint Leo University in Florida investigated if weighted blankets helped with anxiety in psychiatric patients. Measuring how their patients responded to questions about their emotional state, the researchers found evidence that weighted blankets had a marked calming effect.
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