Weighted blankets: uses, benefits, risks and safety

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Heavy blankets, also known as gravity blankets, have been used by mental health professionals as a form of pressure therapy for many years. Today, they have gained widespread popularity among those who believe that pellet-filled blankets weighing between 5 and 30 pounds can relieve stress, improve sleep, and calm children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD ). ) and help treat anxiety disorders.

While many people report improvements in their health and well-being with these popular blankets, there is still considerable debate as to whether they offer the benefits that advocates claim.

Laura Porter / Get Medication Information

Applications

Many adults associate snuggling under a comfortable blanket with a sense of security that goes back to the 'security blankets' they may have had as children. Child psychologists often refer to blankets as "comfort items," that is, an item used to relieve frustration or anxiety during times of stress .

An earlier study by psychologist and security expert Richard Passman, now retired from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, found that approximately 60% of children are tied to a toy, blanket, or pacifier for the first three years of life. life .

More recent research has examined adults' attachment to transitional objects such as blankets and stuffed toys. In a study that used a non-clinical sample of 80 participants, researchers found that people who reported strong attachment to objects were significantly more likely to meet the criteria for borderline personality disorder than those who did not; they also reported more childhood injuries .

Heavy blankets are designed to produce the same therapeutic effects as security blankets, increasing the feeling of being held, stroked, hugged, or squeezed.

The science behind the use of the weighted blanket is a well-known and proven relaxation therapy that is often used for people with stress and anxiety. Known by various names, it is commonly known as deep pressure stimulation (DPS).

Delivered by trained professionals who apply pressure to specific parts of the body, DPS stimulates the so-called parasympathetic nervous system. The nervous system responds naturally to stressful situations by inducing a compassionate or "alert" state that can cause anxiety and stress. The parasympathetic system balances this sympathetic activation.

DPS and heavy blankets can stimulate a parasympathetic response. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated , it can induce a sense of calm by slowing down many of the body's autonomic functions. There are also calming psychological effects, similar to being wrapped in your favorite blanket on a cold winter night, knowing that you are protected from the outside world .

Heavy blankets can help adults and children with sensory processing disorder feel more calm and relaxed. People with this disorder have difficulty processing sensory information such as texture, sounds, smells, tastes, brightness, and movement.

These difficulties can make everyday situations overwhelming, interfere with daily life, and even isolate individuals and their families. Sensory integration therapy uses actions to alter the brain's response to various stimuli .

Applying deep pressure has also been shown to be beneficial for children with high levels of anxiety or arousal due to sensory overload. According to research , the application of deep pressure provided by a weighted vest or blanket can have a calming or relaxing effect in children with certain clinical conditions who have problems with sensory processing .

Advantage

Although more research is needed, studies have been done on the use of heavy blankets to treat the following conditions:

Generalized anxiety

Some research suggests that using heavy blankets can help reduce nighttime levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can contribute to anxiety. Cortisol is best known for being involved in the fight or flight response, a response that has evolved as a survival tool to allow people to respond to potentially life-threatening situations.

However, over time, elevated cortisol levels can negatively affect a person's physical and mental health. Heavy blankets exert deep pressure to promote relaxation and help break this cycle. For example, one study examined the use of a 30-pound weighted blanket in a sample of 32 adults; 63% reported a decrease in anxiety after using the blanket .

Anxiety during certain medical procedures.

  A 2016 study, considered the first to investigate the effect of deep pressure stimulation during wisdom tooth extraction , examined heart rate variability and anxiety in healthy adults who wore heavy blankets during the procedure. The researchers found that the weighted blanket group experienced fewer anxiety symptoms than the control group .

A similar follow-up study was conducted several years later in healthy adolescents who wore a weighted blanket during molar extraction. These results also showed less anxiety among those who used the weighted blanket .

Since medical procedures tend to cause anxiety symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate, the researchers concluded that heavy blankets may be helpful in alleviating these symptoms .

Insomnia

Most of the research on heavy blankets and insomnia has focused on their use in children with clinical conditions such as ASD, as discussed below. However, most of these studies do not objectively investigate sleep.

A Swedish study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders concluded that the use of heavy blankets had positive effects on sleep, both objectively and subjectively, with a number of improved physiological and behavioral indicators in a cohort of 31 adults. However, the study was biased as it was conducted by a blanket manufacturer and had design limitations, such as the absence of a control group .

A systematic review of the literature evaluating eight studies concluded that while heavy blankets may be helpful in small settings and populations, and may be an appropriate therapeutic tool for reducing anxiety, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that they are helpful in relieving insomnia .

Insomnia in children with ASD

Children with ASD sleep poorly compared to their peers. A study published in Pediatrics with 67 children with ASD found that using a weighted blanket did not help them fall asleep significantly faster, sleep more, or wake up less often .

Sleep problems in children with ADHD

As with children with ASD, many children with ADHD have sleep disorders, such as trouble falling asleep and waking up multiple times during the night. However, unlike children with ASD, heavy blankets have been found to be beneficial in some cases for children with ADHD who have had trouble sleeping.

A study of 21 children ages 8 to 13 with ADHD and 21 healthy controls showed that using a weighted blanket reduces the time to fall asleep and the number of awakenings .

A more recent study looked at 120 patients who were randomly assigned (1 to 1) to a weighted metal chain blanket or a lightweight plastic chain blanket for four weeks. Researchers have found that weighted chain blankets are an effective and safe treatment for insomnia in patients with ADHD and other psychiatric disorders .

It is important to note that while some of these studies have been positive, they are limited by their small size, short duration, and / or lack of variety of topics. In all of these therapeutic areas, more research is needed on the benefits of heavy blankets.

Other conditions

Although there have been studies on the benefits of massage for osteoarthritis and chronic pain, there is currently no evidence that heavy blankets are effective in treating these conditions.

Some manufacturers make unsubstantiated claims that heavy blankets are beneficial for certain health and psychological conditions, but ultimately, it is the consumer who must do their own research and make an informed decision.

Risks

In general, heavy blankets are safe for healthy adults, older children, and teens. However, heavy blankets should not be used on children under the age of 2 as they can present a choking hazard. Even older children with disabilities or developmental delays can be at risk of suffocation.

There have been at least two reports of infant deaths due to heavy blankets: one in a 7-month-old baby and one in a 9-year-old with autism. Parents should consult their pediatrician before using the weighted blanket for children of all ages.

People with certain medical conditions should also avoid heavy blankets. These include chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) , and obstructive sleep apnea .

Also, a weighted blanket may not be suitable for claustrophobic people, as it can cause anxiety rather than relieve it.

Security

According to most manufacturers' websites, as a general rule, a weighted blanket should represent 10% of an adult's body weight. Other recommendations include :

  • Adults can use medium to large size blankets weighing 12 to 30 pounds.
  • For a child who weighs 30 to 70 pounds, a small blanket should weigh 5 to 8 pounds.
  • For a 30 to 130 pound child, a medium blanket should weigh 5 to 15 pounds.

Never leave young children unattended with weighted duvets, especially adult duvets .

Get the word of drug information

While there is no conclusive evidence that heavy blankets are effective in treating any health condition, they are popular with many people for the convenience they provide.

Several studies have shown positive results in reducing anxiety and helping children with ADHD get enough sleep at night. If you are a healthy adult, there is little risk of you trying, except in your wallet, as they start at around $ 100.

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