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Do weighted blankets really work? Are there any weighted blanket research studies to back up the claims?
Many people swear by weighted blankets, as an aid to both sleep and anxiety.
Often particularly helpful to people on the autistic spectrum, weighted blankets provide a gentle sensory stimulation called deep touch pressure (DTP). DTP is believed to help calm the nervous system, aiding relaxation and sleep.
But what’s the weighted blanket research? And are there any weighted blanket sleep studies, which back up these anecdotal claims, from a more scientific perspective?
Whilst research into the benefits of weighted blankets is still limited – there is a broadly accepted ‘science’ behind how weighted blankets work. A number of studies on the effectiveness of weighted blanket on autism, sleep and anxiety also exist.
Let’s take a look.
Are Weighted Blankets Scientifically Proven?
The accepted ‘science’ behind how weighted blankets work is something called deep touch pressure (DTP). DTP is where gentle pressure is applied to the body – through methods such as holding, stroking, hugging, swaddling or squeezing. This gentle pressure naturally encourages the brain to release the hormone serotonin.
Often called the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin helps promote relaxation and well being. Thought to play a key role in maintaining mood, it also converts to melatonin, which helps aid natural sleep.
Children and adults with disorders such as autism, depression, insomnia anxiety or ADHD are often low in serotonin, so using a weighted blanket may encourage the brain to produce more serotonin to help improve relaxation and sleep.
Want to know more about DTP? This article uncovers some of the increasing body of research into deep pressure stimulation and touch therapy.
What Do Weighted Blanket Studies Say?
Whilst a great deal of anecdotal evidence exists on the positive effects of deep touch pressure stimulation and weighted blankets, empirical evidence is still quite limited.
Below you’ll find scientific studies that do exist and what they say for sleep, anxiety and autism and ADHD.
Studies On Sleep
This study from 2015 found a weighted blanket had a ‘positive impact on sleep’, providing study participants with a ‘more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.’ 21/31 of the participants, with insomnia, fall asleep faster.
An extract from the study, concluded that:
‘…a weighted blanket may aid in reducing insomnia through increased tactile and proprioceptive inputs, may provide an innovative, non- pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality.’
Additionally, this 2011 Nordic study concluded that weighted blankets had a positive effect on sleep issues, helping participants with ADHD to fall asleep quicker.
Research by noted scientist, Temple Grandin, also highlighted how heavy blankets may aid sleep, with a ‘high functioning autistic woman’ stating, ‘I need heavy blankets on me to sleep well, or else my muscles won’t calm down.’
Studies On Anxiety
This pilot study from 2015 investigated the safety and effectiveness of the standardized use of a 30-pound weighted blanket with 30 adults, during an acute inpatient mental health hospitalization. Via a State Trait Anxiety Inventory and patient self-rating anxiety scale, the study indicated that ‘60% had a significant reduction in anxiety’ using the weighted blanket.
This 2012 study (PDF) looked specifically at the effect of weighted blankets on anxiety in dental environments. It found ‘physiological evidence to support the positive clinical effects of DTP for reducing anxiety in dental environments’.
Again, with anxiety in mind, this study examined the effect of sensory rooms in an acute inpatient psychiatric unit. It discovered that when participants used a sensory room, there was a marked reduction in stress, as well as an improvement in a range of disturbed behaviours. Results showed that:
‘Those individuals who used the weighted blanket reported significantly greater reductions in distress and clinician-rated anxiety than those who did not.’
The report also concluded that, with regards to stress reduction, ‘weighted blankets appear to be particularly useful.’
Lastly, this research study from 2008 found that weighted blankets reduced anxiety in participant patients, revealing that: ‘63% reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality’.
Studies On Autism & ADHD
The ‘Hug Box’ & Temple Grandin
Some of the earliest research on DTP and the benefits of ‘heavier’ blankets was produced by noted animal scientist, Temple Grandin.
Herself on the autistic spectrum, Temple was one of the first to publicly share personal insights from her own experience of autism. These insights led her to invent the ‘squeeze’ or ‘hug box‘, a device which exerted deep touch pressure on its users.
Weighted blankets have a long history in the autism community and Temple Grandin’s ‘Hug-Box’ was essentially a precursor to the modern day weighted blanket. A study of the box discovered that DTP benefitted children with autism and ADHD, helping to calm and reduce stimulating behaviours.
Temple’s study also reported how heavy blankets benefited an autistic woman, helping her to sleep and calm her muscles. Grandin herself, also noted how she would get under the sofa cushions and have her sister sit on them, in a bid to get the pressure stimulation she craved.
This was backed up by this 2011 Nordic study, which concluded that weighted ball blankets did have benefits for sleep issues related to ADHD. It found that:
‘…use of Ball Blankets for 14-days improves the time it takes to fall asleep, individual day-to-day variation and the number of awakenings to a level that compares with those found in the healthy control group.’
Ball blankets are similar to weighted blankets in that they contain plastic balls for changing sensory stimulation.
However, this more recent 2014 study concluded that a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep for a longer period of time, fall asleep significantly faster, or wake less often. It did conclude though, that the use of a weighted blanket was favoured by both children and parents.
Weighted Vest Research Studies
As well as studies on weighted blankets, a few research studies have been carried out on the potential benefits of weighted vests. A weighted vest works in a very similar way to a weighted blanket and is usually recommended by a therapist to help a child, or adult:
- focus better
- calm down
- transition from a high energy activity to a low energy one.
Here’s a summary of the key research findings on weighted vests:
This 2015 study discovered that weighted vests decreased stress and helped promote a sense of calm. A quarter of the research participants were being treated for anxiety, depression or ADHD.
A further 2011 study followed 30 students, with ADHD, who demonstrated significant improvement in a number of areas when wearing a weighted vest. Improvements included task completion speed and task focus.
An earlier study, in 2001, found that students who wore a weighted vest increased their focus by up to 18%. Although the study was a small one, (4 participants), 3 of the 4 students often asked to wear the vest outside of the research trials.
In contrast, this study indicated that weighted vests were not effective at increasing on time tasks. The study sample size was again a small one, it was concluded that results should be generalised ‘cautiously’.
Are There Any Weighted Blanket Risks?
Weighted blankets are generally considered safe for healthy adults, older children, and teenagers.
However, weighted blankets should never be used with a baby, or child under 2, as it may increase suffocation risks. Weighted blankets are also not recommended for children still exploring objects with their mouth or who have severe developmental disabilities or delays. To be safe, it’s recommended you consult a doctor before using a weighted blanket with a child.
Weighted blankets may also be unsuitable for people with conditions such as:
- limited limb mobility
- obstructive sleep apnea
- chronic respiratory or circulatory conditions
- severe dementia.
Always use common sense when using a weighted blanket and if unsure, consult medical professional for advice.
Do Weighted Blankets Work?: Conclusion
A growing body of research suggests deep touch pressure stimulation (DTP) may positively effect a range of conditions – from sleeping issues and anxiety to autism and ADHD.
A limited number of weighted blanket studies also exist, which show the positive effects of deep pressure stimulation provided directly by weighted blankets, lap pads and vests.
Saying this, it’s important to keep in mind that weighted sensory blankets don’t work for everyone, a reason, in part perhaps, why some studies suggest they weighted blankets don’t work.
However, whether or not the science is yet conclusive, weighted blankets are extremely popular with many people, due to the cozy ‘hug’ like comfort they provide.
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