If you’ve ever struggled with sleeping for a few nights in a row, you’ve likely discovered weighted blankets in a Google search.
Originally used as a therapeutic tool for autism and sensory disorders in the 90s, weighted blankets are gaining immense popularity worldwide for their touted benefits in helping to relieve stress and promote deeper, more restful sleep.
But how do weighted blankets actually work?
Deep Pressure Stimulation
In the most simple terms, weighted blankets work by providing gentle pressure across the body, almost like a hug-sensation, which is effective in reducing anxiety and stress and a precursor for a good night’s sleep.
This hug sensation is known in the scientific community as deep pressure stimulation and it’s responsible for relaxing the entire nervous system.
The concept was first realised by animal scientist, Dr Templin Grandin, in the 1960s when she noticed cows were significantly calmer after going through a squeeze chute that applied pressure to their bodies.
Grandin wondered if the administration of pressure would elicit the same effect in humans so invented a hug machine to treat her own anxiety.
Fast forward to present day and Dr Grandin’s groundbreaking research has been used by medical professionals worldwide to treat an array of sensory disorders, as well as anxiety and insomnia.
The concept is now incorporated into solutions that are readily available and simple to use, such as weighted blankets.
Weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation from the weight of plastic or glass beads that are evenly distributed throughout the blanket. They typically weigh between 7 kg and 14 kg and users should select a blanket based on their own body weight (around 8–12% of their body weight is typically recommended, though specific needs differ from person to person).
The hug like sensation of weighted blankets and deep pressure stimulation creates a shift in a number of hormones that are responsible for regulating mood and sleep.
Cortisol regulates a wide range of processes including metabolism, immune response and stress. Like most hormones, it follows a circadian rhythm, with high blood levels early in the morning and low levels in the evening.
The high cortisol levels in the morning are responsible for keeping you alert and turning food into energy efficiently. In the evening, the levels of cortisol naturally decrease, causing you to relax and enter dreamland.
The challenge for most people is that cortisol levels don’t follow this normal trajectory. Levels may often be too low in the morning, making you feel fatigued and without energy. Or they may be too high in the evening, making you feel highly strung and stressed, thus impeding a good night’s sleep.
In fact, a whole suite of medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure can develop when cortisol levels remain too high for too long. All of these conditions are also associated with poor sleep.
Weighted blankets work by reducing cortisol levels, thereby reducing late night stress and anxiety. This is reiterated in a study published in Mental Health, which examined the effectiveness of weighted blankets on anxiety in adults.
They found that 63% of subjects reported a reduction in anxiety after use, and 78% reported calming effects, helping with sleep. Another recent study found that patients undergoing chemotherapy were significantly less anxious after using a weighted blanket.
Serotonin acts as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and digestion. It is often called the happy hormone as elevated levels, which can be caused from exercise and sunlight, help to improve our mood and make us feel happier. Conversely depleted levels can make us feel depressed, anxious and cause difficulty in sleeping.
Depression medications often work by increasing the uptake of serotonin for these very reasons. You can boost your serotonin levels naturally by a healthy diet, exercise and even by using weighted blankets.
It should be noted that whilst more research needs to be conducted on the direct relationship between serotonin and weighted blankets, numerous studies show a positive correlation between deep pressure stimulation and elevated serotonin levels. One peer review study found that serotonin levels increased by 28% following deep pressure stimulation via massage therapy.
The pressure from weighted blankets has also been shown to increase melatonin levels, which is the hormone responsible for facilitating the onset of sleep.
During the day, melatonin levels are very low due to the suppression of this hormone from light. As night falls light exposure decreases, melatonin production initiates, telling your brain it’s time to sleep. Even if you haven’t slept for a while and you feel very tired, it’s difficult to sleep without elevated melatonin levels.
In a nutshell, weighted blankets work by deep pressure stimulation, which increases both melatonin and serotonin levels, while simultaneously decreasing cortisol levels. It’s no surprise that weighted blankets are effective in reducing symptoms of:
- Sleep disorders - including sleep apnoea and insomnia
- Mental health disorders - including depression, anxiety and PTSD
Role in Promoting Deep Sleep
One study in 2015, conducted by a team of researchers at University of Gothenburg, examined the effects of weighted blankets on patients suffering from insomnia over a 4-week period. They found that weighted blankets increased sleep time and decreased movements of patients during the night.
The majority of participants also stated that it was easier to settle down to sleep and they felt more refreshed in the morning. The authors of the study noted that weighted blankets may provide “an innovative, non-pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality”.
While this study was conducted on patients with chronic insomnia, weighted blankets are likely to help people with less severe sleep problems too - which is a significant number of the population!
Considerations to make when buying a weighted blanket:
Other than weight, it’s important to select a blanket that is ultra-breathable and cooling. We’ve chosen to use bamboo as the fabric for our weighted blanket for these exact qualities. The breathability of bamboo naturally regulates temperature, allowing you to keep warm in winter and cool in hot, humid summers. This characteristic is of particular interest in Asia where keeping cool is a must-have!
The Bottom Line
Weighted blankets (or any other sleep product) is not be the solitary cure for improving sleep. But the right combination of using a weighted blanket and following good sleep hygiene principles, such as regular bed-times, turning off electronics a few hours before you sleep, reducing the room temperature and dimming the lights, is likely to significantly improve your ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep.
Try the 60-night trial under a DORMU blankets and we’re sure you’ll see the benefits of a perfect night’s sleep.