WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND WEIGHTED BLANKET BENEFITS?





INCREASED RELAXATION DUE TO DEEP TOUCH PRESSURE



The underlying science on weighted blankets is called deep touch pressure (DTP). DTP is about gently applying pressure to the body to increase the release of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the body that promotes relaxation. What is interesting is that children with autism also tend to be low in serotonin, along with those who have depression, anxiety, aggression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and bipolar disorder.


This could be why the effect is much more profound on children with autism, even though deep touch pressure works for most people. Using weighted blankets on children with or without developmental disabilities is a drug-free way to increase serotonin and elicit a calming effect.


Did you know that it can also improve focus? In a classroom setting, students that struggle with attention can benefit from using weighted tools (like a vest or a lap pad) to help them calm and focus - promoting on-task behavior. So gently applying pressure to the body releases a chemical in your child that promotes relaxation. You can gently apply pressure in a few ways.


One way is our weighted blanket. Another way is a weighted compression vest that your child can wear around or when they are feeling upset. Our lap pads are another form of deep touch pressure, as well as our sensory body socks. They can all be used in different scenarios to take advantage of deep touch pressure in as many realms as possible.



REDUCED STRESS THANKS TO LESS NERVOUS SYSTEM ACTIVITY



Our first study, from Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering in 2012, looked at how patients nervous systems reacted when having DTP through the use of a weighted blanket. With measuring the subject's nervous systems and finding positive results “this study provides physiological evidence to support the positive clinical effects of DTP (deep touch pressure) for reducing anxiety in dental environments.”


This study shows that there is a physiological reaction in a person’s nervous system when DTP is applied. This was specifically for dentist offices since that is a place that causes so many people anxiety! Sufferers of Restless Leg Syndrome have also found benefits to using a weighted blanket at night. Here, their nervous system is overactive, causing sensations of itchiness or that “pins and needles” feeling.


To alleviate this, those with RLS move their legs frequently at night, causing disruptive sleep and negative outcomes throughout the day. The DTP provided through the weighted blanket can help calm the nervous system and offer some relief to RLS sufferers, promoting longer periods of rest and sleep.




WEIGHTED BLANKETS DECREASE ANXIETY




Another study from 2012 in Australasian Psychiatry looked at the effect of sensory rooms in an acute inpatient psychiatric unit. They found that when patients used a sensory room, there was a “significant reduction in distress and improvement in a range of disturbed behaviors. Those individuals who used the weighted blanket reported significantly greater reductions in distress and clinical-rated anxiety than those who did not.”


This is great news! Not only did the sensory room, which we’ve talked about before here, reduce anxiety, but those who used a weighted blanket saw an even bigger reduction in anxiety and distress.


A study from Occupational Therapy in Mental Health in 2008 found that when a weighted blanket was used with patients, the majority of them reported lower anxiety. Individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can experience some alleviation of stress with the DTP of the weighted blanket.


The release of serotonin and associated endorphins can promote a calm and relaxed state, promoting sleep and leaving the individual better able to manage their OCD symptoms. There are also indicators being released that show positive involvement in using weighted blankets for use in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Those with PTSD suffer from symptoms like anxiety, nightmares, heightened reactions or flashbacks, as well as depression. The drug-free, calming benefits of weighted blankets can foster serotonin release and improved sleep, making their use an easy “tool” for a treatment tool box in PTSD patients.



OVERALL SLEEP IMPROVEMENTS FROM WEIGHTED BLANKETS



This study from the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders from 2015 found that a weighted blanket helped those with insomnia sleep better.


Here is a little clip from their results: “Objectively, we found that sleep bout time increased, as well as a decrease in movements of the participants, during weighted blanket use. Subjectively, the participants liked sleeping with the blanket, found it easier to settle down to sleep and had an improved sleep, where they felt more refreshed in the morning.


Overall, we found that when the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep.”



RELATED WEIGHTED VEST RESEARCH STUDIES



One study focusing on deep touch pressure, or as this study refers to it, Deep Pressure Stimulation, found that using a weighted vest “reduced sympathetic arousal and non–stimulus-driven electrical occurrences.” This means that the pressure from the vest not only mentally calmed down the subjects, but there were physiological reactions to prove the use of the vest.


This one pairs well with our first study referenced in the above weighted blanket section since they both showed positive physiological reactions from the use of DTP. Two of the studies focused on children with ADHD, while the other two focused on children with Autism. All four of them found positive results! One study found that children with ADHD improved 18 to 25% with on-task behavior while wearing a weighted vest. Another weighted vest study that focused on children with autism had improved in-seat behavior while using a weighted vest.


It should be noted though that there was a period where it didn’t work at first because children enjoyed them so much. They realized that if they acted out, they then got the weighted vest. The researchers used “Noncontingent Reinforcement (NCR)” - this was assessed within the context of a withdrawal design. NCR had an optimal effect on the participants' in-seat behavior. What they mean by NCR, is that they used the vests long enough to where the children stopped acting out to get them.


Once the vests became a part of their normal routines, the researchers could better study how the weighted vests affected the children’s in-seat behavior. Once they studied children’s behavior after the use of NCR, the children’s in-seat behavior improved. Another study in 2011 found that using a weighted vest with children who have ADHD improved their in-seat behavior, attention-to-task, and task completion.


The last study we’ll look at is from 2001, which looked at how preschoolers with pervasive developmental disorders reacted to weighted vests. It found that the use of weighted vests decreased the number of distractions while increasing the duration of focused attention.