What is a weighted blanket, and does it actually help with sleep?

One of the methods that many opt for, to relax and fall asleep, is using a ‘weighted blanket’. But what is it? A weighted blanket is an especially heavy blanket that people wrap themselves in to relax, feel more comfortable and fall asleep. They are said to relieve depressive symptoms, alleviate anxiety, and improve sleep quality.

According to USA Today, the first weighted blanket was invented by Keith Zivalich in 1997. He got inspired to create it when his daughter placed a Beanie Baby (a stuffed toy) on his shoulder. It felt as if the stuffed toy was hugging him, and that’s when the idea dawned upon him — to create a blanket that could induce the same feeling. He used deep pressure touch stimulation therapy (DPTS) to create it. A weighted blanket is made of various fillers, such as micro glass beads, sand, steel beads, pebbles and grains.

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But, to what extent do they actually work and make a difference?

Scientifically, it is said that deep pressure stimulation with a weighted blanket can help reduce autonomic arousal, which can indeed reduce anxiety.

Vinaya Gore, Chief Psychologist at Aatman Psychology Studio, Pune said, “It provides a calm-inducing amount of pressure on your body, similar to the feeling of being hugged or held. The pressure usually puts your autonomic nervous system into ‘rest’ mode and can often reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as fastened heart rate.”

Aman Puri, Founder of Steadfast Nutrition, added that they are a good way to release stress and anxiety as they provide cosiness and reduce the feeling of loneliness, which increases the quality of sleep. “Moreover, when we enter into the deep sleep stage, the body temperature reduces and a weighted blanket would help in providing extra warmth. Sleep is the most important part of a person’s recovery and a good sleep cycle can improve hormonal functioning and cognitive strength. Many recent studies have shown the benefits of using weighted blankets.”

According to Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, Mental Wellness Expert at Artemis Hospital, these specially-designed blankets can work complementary to treatment. “Research is still being done. It cannot replace treatment, but if it provides the person comfort, it can be used complementary to treatment,” she said.

However, a weighted blanket may not be suitable for everyone, experts said. Gore explained that people with conditions such as chronic respiratory or circulatory issues, asthma, low blood pressure, sleep apnoea or claustrophobia must avoid using it. The glass beads could also fall out and become a choking hazard, which can be risky.

A series of 8 studies done by the American Occupational Therapy Association, suggested that “weighted blankets may be an appropriate therapeutic tool in reducing anxiety. However, there is not enough evidence to suggest they are helpful with insomnia.”

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