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 Medical Experts Explain How Weighted Blankets Work

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weighted blankets

Weighted blankets can do more than help people get better sleep.

Weighted blankets are becoming increasingly popular to manage sleep and stress. These specialized bedcovers use pockets filled with sand or plastic pellets to make them weigh between 10 and 30 pounds. The weight of the blanket is meant to provide an even amount of pressure throughout the body, which many people report provides a soothing, calming sensation that can ease anxiety and improve sleep.

While many uses weighted blankets for general calming, some people also say they provide pain relief. For this reason, doctors are taking notice of the trend and are beginning to study it—and how it works—more closely.

Weighted Blanket Uses Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP)

The blanket provides an even distribution of weight throughout your body by using gravity to create a gentle, consistent downward force. The most common explanation for the effects of a weighted blanket is deep touch pressure stimulation or DTP. According to a study published in Occupational Therapy In Mental Health, “A theory behind [DTP] therapies suggests they work by stimulating mechanoreceptors which are found in high concentrations in the skin, joints, bones, muscles, and neurons with an inhibitory function.” This stimulation has the effect of triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine. Other studies have outlined additional elements that may play a role.

These effects are very similar to those offered by firm hugs or cuddling, which is why children often engage in these activities after a stressful event.

The Science of Weighted Blankets

Beyond DTP therapy, there are other possible explanations for the effects of weighted blankets. One study published by the Journal of Advanced Nursing suggests that deep pressure stimulation may decrease blood cortisol levels, improving behaviour in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Another study published in Occupational Therapy In Mental Health looked at the effects of weighted blankets on people with insomnia and found that it had a “positive effect” on stress, relaxation, and body awareness. The authors also cite previous research suggesting that heavy pressure can stimulate acupressure points in the body.

Weighted Blankets May Improve Obesity and Metabolic Health

Weighted blankets have been used to manage the symptoms of various conditions, including autism, insomnia, anxiety, stress, and even menopause. But perhaps one of the most surprising benefits is that they may help improve obesity and metabolic health. According to a report from New Scientist, researchers have found that the weight of the blanket stimulates lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat. This has led some scientists to believe that weighted blankets may have a role in preventing obesity and its related conditions, including diabetes.

Weighted Blanket Safety

For most people, weighted blankets are considered very safe—provided they are used correctly. To ensure that your blanket is safe to use, make sure it weighs 10% of your body weight plus one or two pounds. This means that a 150-pound person should not use a blanket more than 16 pounds in total. The best size for children and teenagers is usually between 3 and 8 pounds.