October 6, 2022

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Is This Weighted Wellness Tool Simply A Fad, or A Helpful Key To Quell Anxiety?

Nearly every time I open TikTok, I get an advertisement for weighted animal plushies. I know that weighted blankets really blew up a few years ago, but they’ve been on an upward trend since 2019. The average market size was $399 million at the time. Experts now estimate that by 2026, the average market size will be $1165.7 billion, and that’s only four years from now!

Why such the increase in popularity? What benefits do weighted blankets actually have? Let’s explore the science behind these things to see why so many people are buying them.

What is a Weighted Blanket and How Does it Work?

On the base-level, weighted blankets usually simulate the feeling of a hug or cuddling. This feeling of pressure provides comfort due to the similar feelings of hugging and cuddling. The Sleep Foundation reports that general benefits of weighted blankets include:

  • Provide comfort and security
  • Ease stress and soothe anxiety
  • Improve your sleep quality
  • Calm the nervous system

These all sound great, especially if all this can be done with a $30 blanket. Although we know the basics of how these blankets work, what is the scientific explanation for these benefits?

The Science Behind Weighted Blankets

To start: we don’t just respond to the feeling of touch itself— we respond to the receptors related to certain acts of touch. Wijaya et al. states in their study that “touch is a complex sense that arises from the stimulation of multiple types of mechanoreceptors with special response properties.” These receptors are also known as “C-tactile (CT),” and they have firing properties similar to those associated with platonic and even sometimes sexual types of touch. When we experience these response properties, we are able to “locate and categorize tactile sensations.” So in simpler terms, the process is something like:

We touch something –> our mechanoreceptors register the sensation –> our brains categorize these sensations –> they appear the same as hugs or cuddles –> we react similarly as we would to those types of touch

Deep Pressure Stimulation

In a 2020 study, Wijaya et al. also reported that “participants perceived touch as more pleasant when it felt soft,” just like how these blankets feel to us. However, there’s also another part to the science behind these blankets, and that’s Deep Pressure Stimulation or Therapy (DPT).

Deep Pressure Therapy, according to Gravity Blankets, a primary producer of weighted blankets, is “a form of therapy that relaxes the nervous system by applying firm, gentle pressure to the body.” This type of therapy involves two bodily systems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system handles our fight or flight response, so it is very sensitive to touch. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our “rest and digest” functions. When these functions are activated, they calm the body, and our serotonin levels even begin to rise.

But how do these both come into play when we snuggle up in a weighted blanket? Gravity Blankets explains that “Research shows that applying firm, gentle pressure — aka, deep touch pressure — can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, effectively putting your body into ‘rest mode.'” Our bodies naturally calm down when this pressure is applied, and this calming effect can be helpful for so many reasons beyond what it has been traditionally used for.

But Why Should I Get a Weighted Blanket?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Weighted blankets have traditionally been used in medical treatment for dementia, anxiety, autism, and more. But if that’s the case, why would the average person want to use one? Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg reminds us why more people are using these blankets: “the pressure a weighted blanket provides when someone is trying to relax into sleep can be comforting,” and “people like the feeling of getting a hug or a massage. Sleeping under a weighted blanket provides a similar feeling.”

If you experience any degree of stress or anxiety, a weighted blanket may be perfect for you. A 2008 study found that “33% of the participants were found to exhibit a greater reduction in anxiety with the weighted blanket than without the blanket.” and that “63% of the participants rated their anxiety lower with the use of the weighted blanket.” Additionally, in an exit survey taken by participants, “78% reported a lower anxiety after using the blanket than when not using the blanket.” The study’s conclusion was that using a 30-pound blanket has a calming influence for some adults.

But what if you don’t have high anxiety or stress? Weighted blankets may still improve your overall sleep quality. A 2020 study on the topic found that “participants felt they fell asleep faster (13% faster), experienced better sleep quality (14% better), felt more rested in the morning (17% more rested), and felt they slept better through the night without waking up (36% improvement).” So even if you don’t have any medical or mental reasons to try a weighted blanket, you just might get better sleep at the very least!

Our lives are so tiring and stressful nowadays that we want to get the best sleep we possibly can! Maybe these young adults on TikTok are onto something. Try sleeping with a weighted blanket for a week or two— do you feel more rested? Ready to take on the day? Do you still need three cups of coffee to get you going in the morning? Who knows, but i’d say it’s worth a shot!

Sources

Wijaya, Maria, et al. “The Human “feel” of Touch Contributes to its Perceived Pleasantness.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, vol. 46, no. 2, 2020, pp. 155-171. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/human-feel-touch-contributes-perceived/docview/2320484794/se-2, doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000705.

“Weighted Blanket Market Size, Share, Growth, and Industry Growth by Type (0-5 Kg, 5-10 Kg, and Above 10 Kg) By Application (Adults, Kids, and Teens) Regional Forecast (2022-2026).” Business Research Insights, Feb 2021, https://www.businessresearchinsights.com/market-reports/weighted-blanket-market-100086

Noyed, Daniel. “Weighted Blanket Benefits.” Sleep Foundation, 11 March 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedding-information/weighted-blanket-benefits

Brown, Dalvin. “Weighted Blankets: Here’s How the Trendy Bedding got so Popular.” USA Today, 26 Jan 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/01/26/weighted-blankets-makers-weigh-products-sudden-success/2558957002/

Mullen, Brian BS et al. “Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket.” Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, vol. 24, no. 1, 2008, pp. 65-89, https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.mnsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1300/J004v24n01_05?needAccess=true

Danoff-Burg, S. et al. “1203 Worth The Weight: Weighted Blanket Improves Sleep And Increases Relaxation.” Sleep, vol. 43, no. 1, 2020, p. A460, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsaa056.1197

“A Helpful Guide to Deep Pressure Therapy.” Gravity Blankets, 5 Aug 2021, https://gravityblankets.com/blogs/blog/deep-pressure-therapy



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