Using weighted blankets may reduce sleep issues related to anxiety, insomnia and psychiatric disorders
The results of a study indicated that the use of weighted blankets resulted in better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level and reduced daytime symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety.
A good night’s sleep is essential for the proper metabolic, endocrinal, cognitive and psychological functioning of the body. As shown in a recent study, both less and excess sleep can lead to cognitive decline. But getting enough sleep - which amounts to about seven hours per night, according to most experts - may be difficult for those who experience sleep-related issues.
Sleep difficulties can arise due to stress, anxiety, insomnia, autism, psychiatric disorders like depression or any other clinically diagnosed health issue. Appropriate therapies or treatments for each of these issues may be different but a number of recent studies are showing that the use of weighted blankets may alleviate a number of these issues.
Weighted blankets and sleep issues
UK-based organisation The Sleep Council says that weighted blankets are surging in popularity across the world. Weighted blankets are designed to provide a light, evenly distributed pressure on your body. This type of deep pressure stimulation provides the same feelings of security and comfort that being held or hugged does, which is suggested to help you sleep better.
A study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders in 2015 indicated that insomnia patients using a weighted blanket found it easier to settle down to sleep, had a significant decrease in movements during sleep and consequently, their sleep time increased and they felt refreshed in the morning. Due to this evidence of improvement in sleep quality and duration, this study concluded that weighted blankets are a good non-pharmacological approach for the treatment of insomnia.
Another study in the journal Neurology in March 2020 suggested that children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder who reported disrupted sleep behaviour can be recommended the use of weighted blankets to improve sleep. This study found no serious adverse events associated with weighted blanket use among those with autism spectrum disorder. Similarly, a study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy in March 2020 indicated the use of weighted blankets by people with stress or anxiety can help improve sleep.
A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in September 2020 evaluated the use of either a weighted metal chain blanket or a light plastic chain blanket by 120 patients with psychiatric disorders like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) over a period of four weeks. The results indicated that the use of weighted blankets resulted in better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level and reduced daytime symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety. This study also found no adverse effects to report and concluded that weighted chain blankets are effective and safe for patients with psychiatric disorders who report insomnia.
Benefits and side effects of weighted blankets
None of the studies mentioned above reported any serious adverse effects due to the use of weighted blankets. However, as The Sleep Council mentions, a weighted blanket should weigh about 5-10 percent of your body weight and the quality has to be such that it doesn’t jeopardise your health or wellbeing due to dangling plastic weights or pellets. This is the reason why weighted blankets should be bought only with the recommendation and quality approval of a doctor or healthcare professional.
The following are some of the benefits you can gain by using a weighted blanket according to the US National Sleep Foundation:
- Weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, which improves serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s associated with improved sleep.
- The feeling of being held or hugged generated by the weighted blanket may also aid the production of oxytocin, which is a hormone that can relieve pain and stress while boosting your immune system.
- Due to the gentle pressure it exerts, a weighted blanket is likely to reduce movements and restlessness during sleep. These movements disrupt sleep, so their reduction is likely to improve sleep quality.
For more information, read our article on Sleep disorders.
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