As their name suggests, weighted blankets are blankets whose weight is greater than that of a conventional blanket or comforter. This weight exerts a pressure on the person using it, providing comfort, relaxation and helping him/her to sleep. In fact, among the benefits attributed to heavy blankets are combating insomnia and reducing stress and anxiety.
Although it depends on the manufacturer, heavy blankets are filled with evenly distributed, treated glass beads. This filling provides extra weight, usually ranging from four to 15 kilograms. The weight of the blanket we choose will depend on our own weight, as it is recommended that it represents between 10 and 15% of the weight of the person or persons using it. Thus, lighter blankets are indicated for children and for adults it will depend on whether they sleep alone or accompanied.
The extra weight provided by the weighted blanket exerts a gentle pressure on the body of the person using it, known as the Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) technique. This gentle localized pressure on the muscles would produce beneficial effects on the central nervous system, very similar, for example, to what we get with a hug, which helps reduce cortisol (the hormone responsible for stress) and increases the secretion of serotonin, oxytocin or dopamine, hormones that give us a sense of well-being, relaxation … among many other functions. This is explained because there is a connection between the sense of touch and the state of excitement and calmness of our brain. The pressure acts on the vagus nerve, the one in charge of relaxing us and, as a consequence, we are able to calm stress, anxiety, excitement, relax and feel better.
Its first indication is insomnia. In fact, several studies have been done on the subject. A very recent one, dated September 2020 and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, showed that almost 60% of patients with insomnia manage to reduce their ISI (Insomnia Severity Index) by more than 50% in four weeks compared to the control group. It would be, therefore, a new tool that, without being infallible, could help to improve the quality of sleep of millions of people, and without the need to resort to pharmacological treatments, with all that entails, the results of this preliminary study are really encouraging to value the heavy blankets as a possible treatment option in patients with insomnia.
In addition to combating insomnia, due to the positive effects that heavy blankets exert on the central nervous system, it is believed that their use could be useful to help people with some pathologies or psychiatric or neuropsychiatric disorders, although the truth is that there is no solid evidence about it.
The disorders for people for whom they could be useful are those affected by ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), who usually have difficulties to calm down and self-regulate; and also with people with sensory processing problems. This would also be the case for people with autism, as they are often affected by ADHD, emotional dysregulation and sensory processing problems.
In theory, people with any of these three conditions could benefit from the effects that the blankets produce on the nervous system and could be useful for them to sleep, reduce the anxiety that often accompanies these disorders, calm them in times of crisis or even to increase the child’s body awareness. In fact, although its beneficial effects on this type of disorders do not have sufficient scientific evidence, it is a tool often used by therapists.