The Science Behind Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets and other weighted items are very much in vogue right now. The list of health benefits is getting longer every day, and for a good reason. There is money to be made. So I decided to filter through the claims made online, see if I can get to the facts about weighted blankets.

What is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket is just what it sounds like. A blanket that is heavy. There are a variety of sizes and weights out there, all claiming to do one thing or another, and in all kinds of price points. They were originally targeted at children, specifically kids with mental issues, such as Autistic Spectrum disorders and ADHD, but the market has since grown.

What is Deep Touch Pressure?

This is where the guts of the science comes into play. Deep touch pressure at its core is the release of serotonin in the brain as a response to external stimuli, in this case, pressure. Emulating a hug. My research has had this phrase show up in the farming community, with a hug machine designed for cattle. Worked on them, and the brain chemistry is similar enough across the board.

Being hugged releases endorphins that make one feel calm and relaxed, and thus the same is true when using a weighted blanket, adults, and children. It is especially useful if you suffer from one of many serotonin deficient illnesses, like anxiety and depression. It is not unique to blankets, the same is true of weighted clothing, and I bring that up as the studies I have found were not simply blanket focused, much as I would like them to be.

Do Weighted Blankets Work?

Short answer? Yeah, they seem to work. The broad spectrum of benefits applied to them can be boiled down to the serotonin release, and the fact that an increase in serotonin, for certain individuals, can make for a major positive change in their life. But we cannot rely on anecdotal evidence alone. Thankfully I have found a  half dozen or so studies over the last two decades that corroborate this.

The earliest study I was able to find was about weighted vests, titled; Effects of a weighted vest on attention to task and self-stimulatory behaviors in preschoolers with pervasive developmental disorders. Its focus was on young children with attention disorders, and it found that there was a strong correlation between an increase in the on-task attention of the affected kids. These results were confirmed the same year in a separate study, in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, finding at 18-25% increase in on-task attention. You can find the study below in my source list. The findings were again confirmed in 2008 in a separate examination, though it must be noted here that it only began to show positive effects after the researchers stopped treated being given the vest as a “reward” for acting out.

We skip ahead a few years here, and the research begins to look at wider applications of the physiological effects of weighted items. A 2008 study titled; Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket, was able to show that when given weighted blankets patients in recovery reported lower levels of stress than the control. Now, when it comes to self-reporting we do have to be careful, but even when compensating for the placebo this is an encouraging result. Again, you will find this study below.

A pair of studies in 2012, one in Australia and one in the US, both showed significant reductions in stress and anxiety by test subjects who used weighted blankets. What is interesting to me about this is the Australian one was not testing for weighted blankets. They were provided, but not all subjects used one. They were testing a sensory room, which also reduced anxiety in the test subjects, but those who used a weighted blanket in addition to the room reported significantly less stress overall. This first study was a little more humdrum, with predictable results, but the Australian one is fascinating, you’ll find it below.

The most recent piece of evidence came in 2015, there are others out there, but none provide anything new. The 2012 study comes from The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, titled; Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation on Physiological Arousal. This one is remarkable. Other studies on adults focused on user feedback to collate their data. this one did too, but also scanned brains. What they found was that the use of a weighted vest had the subjects reporting less aggression, i.e. were better able to keep a lid on their emotions, but they also found a reduction in non-stimulus driven electrical occurrences, meaning that they had hard proof that there was a change in their brains as a result of using the vest.

Finally, I found a 2015 study on the effects of using a weighted blanket to aid those suffering from insomnia. Patients who used the weighted blanket moved less, slept for longer, and found it much easier to bed down so to speak. The statistically significant percentage reported feeling fresher as well. So from the outside view and the inside view, the weighted blanket aided across the board.

So What are the Facts on Weighted Blankets?

We know the core of the physiological effects of a hug. There are studies out there riddled with brain scans on what happens when we apply pressure to a person. Serotonin gets released, leading to a feeling of comfort, relaxation and all manner of other things. It means that when you use a weighted blanket you know what is happening in your brain. But in real terms, weighted blankets have shown to improve the quality of sleep for people with insomnia. They boast an increase in concentration for those with difficulties in that area. They are proven to reduce stress-related anger and relieve the symptoms of anxiety in otherwise healthy adults.

Overall, I think there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the use of a weighted blanket is a net gain for pretty much anyone. Obviously, there are those who would see a far larger improvement in their life if they were to pick one up, but I maintain that even relatively adjusted folks should look into it.

2001 Study on Attention in Children

2008 Study in-seat behavior

2008 Study on Weighted Blankets for Anxiety

2012 Study Australian Sensory room

2015 Study on Brain reaction

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