Anxiety and stress are common problems in today’s fast-paced world and can be particularly troublesome for those with autism, ADHD, PTSD and other conditions known to cause anxious feelings or restlessness. Therapies like medication and counseling can be beneficial, but some people need more help managing symptoms on an ongoing basis.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms resulting from anxiety and stress, a weighted blanket may provide relief as an alternative or adjunct therapy.

What is a Weighted Blanket?

First developed for the management of anxiety in children with autism and similar developmental challenges, blankets with weighted fillings are becoming more popular today for both children and adults. You can think of the construction as similar to a series of small “bean bags” with a soft, comfortable cover. Weight is distributed evenly throughout the interior of the blanket in the form of materials such as glass beads and plastic pellets. Other, less common, fillings include grains like rice and millet.

Like regular blankets, weighted styles come in different sizes, so they’re suitable for nearly all age groups. Heaviness also varies so that you can choose the appropriate amount of pressure according to your personal preferences or the needs of the intended user.

What are the Benefits of Choosing a Blanket with Weight?

When you’re in a stressful situation or feel anxious, your sympathetic nervous system springs into action and sets off the now-infamous “fight or flight” response associated with so many of the symptoms people experience when living high-stress lives. Blankets filled with weighted materials may counteract the negative effects of chronic sympathetic nervous system activation.

How does this work? Relaxing or sleeping under a weighted covering simulates deep pressure touch stimulation therapy, in which gentle squeezing sensations are used to induce a state of calmness. The pressure activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of the nervous system responsible for peaceful, relaxed sensations.

Studies and use cases show the benefits of activating the parasympathetic nervous system with deep pressure through the use of weight:

  • Stimulates the release of oxytocin, leading to lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increases serotonin release for a more balanced mood
  • Reduces sensory over-stimulation in individuals with autism or sensory processing disorders
  • Improves sleep quality and duration through the release of melatonin
  • Reduces pain from chronic disorders, such as fibromyalgia
  • May increase attentiveness in children with ADHD and autism
  • Shows promise for management of restless leg syndrome

How Heavy Should Your Weighted Blanket Be?

30-50 LBS 5 LBS
50-80 LBS 7 LBS
70-90 LBS 10 LBS
90-120 LBS 12 LBS
150-170 LBS 15 LBS
160-180 LBS 17 LBS
170-200 LBS 20 LBS

Fifteen pounds is a common weight for adult blankets, but several factors come into play when determining what’s appropriate. Most experts recommend sticking with 10 percent of the body weight of the intended user and rounding up one to two pounds if the figure falls between standard sizes. However, when choosing a blanket for children, it’s best to stick as close to 10 percent as possible, especially if they need to move or lift the blanket on their own.

If you’ve never used a blanket with weights before, start lighter to gauge how it feels. The manufacturer may have a weight chart or similar guidelines to help you when making your first purchase. After using the blanket for a while, you’ll be able to determine if the weight provides the benefits you’re looking for and is comfortable for rest and sleep. If you get a blanket for your child, monitor use to make sure he or she doesn’t feel restricted. Weighted coverings shouldn’t be used on  children under 20 pounds.

How to Properly Wash a Blanket with Weights

Before washing your blanket for the first time, take a look at the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. There may be a removable exterior cover, which can be washed in a machine or by hand using gentle detergent, or the entire blanket may be machine washable. Blankets under 20 pounds are safe to wash at home, but heavier blankets can damage regular washing machines and should be cleaned  at the laundromat instead.

Prior to washing, inspect your blanket for stains and spots. These may require  pre-treatment with mild soap or a specially formulated spray. Choose the appropriate cleaner based on the type of stain, and wash the blanket immediately after treating.

Avoid using chlorine bleach or fabric softener on your blanket. Fabric softener may actually make the fibers feel scratchy over time, and bleach can cause damage to the material, making it wear out more quickly.

Tips for Choosing the Best Blanket

  • When you’re ready to shop for your first weighed blanket, keep these guidelines in mind:
  • The size should be appropriate for the age and height of the user or the bed where the blanket will be placed.
  • Soft materials are best for individuals with sensitive skin, sensory disorders or hypersensitivity to touch and texture.
  • Dense fillings provide a “closer” sensation and may not be appropriate for claustrophobic individuals.
  • Light, breathable fabrics are best for warmer seasons or climates.
  • Some weighted materials contain lead and should be avoided.
  • Individuals with sleep apnea or severe snoring shouldn’t use weighted blankets, as the weight can further restrict their ability to breathe.

Personal preference also comes into play when selecting material and weight, so don’t hesitate to check out several different blankets to find one suited to your tastes.

Adding a weighted blanket to a management protocol for stress, anxiety and related disorders can ease symptoms and provide safe, gentle relief. In combination with other stress relief techniques, such as yoga or stretching, deep breathing, regular exercise and healthy dietary changes, the deep pressure stimulation these blankets offer is a useful tool for calming the nervous system and bringing a better sense of well-being. Consider the characteristics you want in a blanket, and look at all the options to find the perfect one for your situation.

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October 13, 2020