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Weighted Blankets: Benefits And Potential Dangers

Weighted blankets were once considered a powerful tool by plenty of therapists and psychiatry clinicians. These are also sometimes referred to as gravity blankets and have gone mainstream now. However, there still exists a lot of debate as to whether weighted blankets truly serve the purpose of easing anxiety without causing any health issues. Many experts caution against the use of these 12 kg blankets, especially for children, as it can pose a hazard [1] .

These blankets have a long history of being used in a specific type of occupational therapy known as sensory integration therapy [2] . Such treatments were highly effective in treating disorders that were focused on sensory experiences. The makers of such gravity blankets claim that these can be quite effective in treating health issues such as insomnia, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder [3] .

Read on to know more about the health benefits and potential risks of weighted blankets.

What Are Weighted Blankets?

A weighted blanket is a blanket filled with small objects such as discs, beads, pellets or polypropylene plastic, etc., to add weight that can give the user a feeling of being hugged gently [4] . The weight of adult gravity blankets ranges around 4 to 14 kilograms. There are lighter options available for children. These blankets are not recommended for infants [5] . The creation of such blankets involves blending a softer material like cotton with the weights to obtain a traditional duvet feel.

Users ideally pick the heaviness of the blanket based on his or her weight. Many experts who are in favour of using weighted blankets believe that using these blankets give you a secure feeling and allows you to sleep better due to the calming effect of the feeling of being held.

The weighted filling of these blankets provides added weight that makes the user feel like receiving a gentle hug due to the added light pressure that one would not experience with the use of an average blanket.

Benefits Of Weighted Blankets

Although the potential benefits of weighted blankets have not been studied extensively, there have been several claims of promising results. It is said that these blankets are extremely good for deep psychological reasons and can thus, go a long way in helping people suffering from depression [6] . Weighted blankets can also alleviate the symptoms in people suffering from chronic pain conditions and insomnia.

According to a study, the deep touch pressure provided by this blanket is quite helpful in serving as a calming tool for anxiety [6] . It is said to offer feelings of relaxation, comfort and safety.
Due to its imitation of a hug, weighted blankets lead to a rise in oxytocin [7] . This eventually lowers heart rate and blood pressure. This feature makes weighted blankets give its calming effect.

There are other studies that say that the positive effects of weighted blankets are due to its ability to increase melatonin production (helps in sleep regulation) [8] . These blankets also promote the release of happiness-boosting serotonin [9] .

Quite a few professors of clinical medicine believe that weighted blankets can turn out to be a good alternative to life-long sedative hypnotic medications (sleeping pills) [10] .

How To Choose Weighted Blankets

The best weighted blanket would be the one that matches the weight of the user. An ideal recommendation is the choice of a blanket that is 10 per cent of your body weight plus an additional kilogram or two. Technically, the weighted blanket should lay comfortably snug around your entire body such that it provides gentle pressure all over [11] . It should be appropriately fitted for the width and length of your body.

Note that weighted blankets are not meant to replace your current comforter. However, they are available in sizes that match mattress dimensions.

Weighted blankets can be filled with disc, beads, pellets or even flax seeds. In some cases, they are filled with a mix of one of these materials and a lighter, softer material like cotton.
Just like the regular ones, weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics and colours. You can place the blanket over the entire body while lying down or drape over the shoulders while sitting.

Potential Dangers Of Weighted Blankets

A question that has been doing the rounds ever since weighted blankets came into the mainstream is in connection with its safety aspect. Some research studies say that the use of weighted blankets can be dangerous for children [1] . Hence, the use of weighted blankets by children should only be under adult supervision and only after seeking approval from a healthcare provider.

One should not use a weighted blanket in the following situations [12] :

  • When you have diabetes
  • If you find it difficult to breath (for people with asthma and sleep apnea)
  • If you suffer from claustrophobia
  • If you suffer from cleithrophobia
  • When you have circulation or blood pressure issues
  • If you have a fragile skin (a rash or an open wound)

Always check with your healthcare provider before using a weighted blanket as a supplemental treatment for a medical condition. Also, the use of the appropriate size and weight of the blanket is essential for overall wellness. A person looking to use weighted blankets as a treatment methodology for a medical condition can check with a doctor regarding the recommended duration of use. Also, check with your doctor first before using a weighted blanket if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, check with your child's paediatrician before using a weighted blanket for the child.

View Article References
  1. [1] Bestbier, L., & Williams, T. I. (2017). The Immediate Effects of Deep Pressure on Young People with Autism and Severe Intellectual Difficulties: Demonstrating Individual Differences.Occupational therapy international,2017, 7534972.
  2. [2] Pfeiffer, B. A., Koenig, K., Kinnealey, M., Sheppard, M., & Henderson, L. (2011). Effectiveness of sensory integration interventions in children with autism spectrum disorders: a pilot study.The American journal of occupational therapy : official publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association,65(1), 76–85.
  3. [3] Gringras, P., Green, D., Wright, B., Rush, C., Sparrowhawk, M., Pratt, K., ... & Wiggs, L. (2014). Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children—a randomized controlled trial.Pediatrics,134(2), 298-306.
  4. [4] Thach B. (2008). Tragic and sudden death. Potential and proven mechanisms causing sudden infant death syndrome.EMBO reports,9(2), 114–118.
  5. [5] Krauss, K. E. (1987). The effects of deep pressure touch on anxiety.The American journal of occupational therapy,41(6), 366-373.
  6. [6] Gimpl, G., & Fahrenholz, F. (2001). The oxytocin receptor system: structure, function, and regulation.Physiological reviews,81(2), 629-683.
  7. [7] Brzezinski, A. (1997). Melatonin in humans.New England journal of medicine,336(3), 186-195.
  8. [8] 유재경. (2015).Essentialist Beliefs about Happiness and its Impacts on Well-Being(Doctoral dissertation, 서울대학교 대학원).
  9. [9] Young S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN,32(6), 394–399.
  10. [10] McMillan, J. M., Aitken, E., & Holroyd-Leduc, J. M. (2013). Management of insomnia and long-term use of sedative-hypnotic drugs in older patients.CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne,185(17), 1499–1505.
  11. [11] Chen, H. Y., Yang, H., Chi, H. J., & Chen, H. M. (2013). Physiological effects of deep touch pressure on anxiety alleviation: The weighted blanket approach.Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering,33(5), 463-470.
  12. [12] Atkinson, G., & Davenne, D. (2007). Relationships between sleep, physical activity and human health.Physiology & behavior,90(2-3), 229–235.
Story first published: Wednesday, June 26, 2019, 18:00 [IST]
Read more about: health anxiety sleep benefits insomnia