Sound like some New Age-y gadget designed by marketers looking to cash in on your desperation for a good night’s sleep? Hold on! There’s actually a long history of therapeutic use of weighted blankets and a body of research that suggests they can improve sleep quality and overall well-being.
Occupational therapists have long used weighted blankets and vests to relieve anxiety, stress, and hyperactivity as well as to provide sensory integration therapy for people with sensory processing disorder (SPD). According to Theresa May-Benson, occupational therapist with the Spiral Foundation in Newton, MA, people with sensory processing disorders are often hypersensitive to touch or textures to the extent that even clothing becomes an unbearable irritation. Deep pressure touch like that provided by a weighted blanket can help desensitize them to normal tactile experiences.
Deep pressure touch also triggers the production of the “feel-good hormone” serotonin, which calms anxiety, relieves stress, and can even lull them into a sound sleep.
Twenty years ago, you might have never heard about weighted blankets, but today a quick Google search of “weighted blankets” yields a plethora of results. Why the uptick in interest? The dramatic increase in the rate of autism is one answer.
Weighted Blankets for Autism
The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 school-aged children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which represents a 30% increase since just 2012. According to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder, at least 75% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder also have sensory processing disorder and respond well to weighted blankets and vests.
It’s no secret that stress and associated sleep disorders are on the rise. In fact, more than a third of adults in America get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. As these sleep-deprived people become more aware of the dangers of running a sleep deficit, they are searching for ways to improve their sleep performance. Maybe you’re one of them.
But high rates of autism, sensory processing disorder, and sleep deprivation are not the only reasons why weighted blankets are attracting national attention. People with a host of conditions can benefit from weighted blankets. These conditions include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Sleep disorders
- Nervous system disorders
- Restless leg syndrome
- Menopausal symptoms