We live in anxious times.
Political unrest, aggressive storms exacerbated by climate change, and uncertainty about the future are just a few reasons why 70% of Americans struggle to fall asleep at least one night per week. Maybe you're one of them. Maybe you're also one of the over 40 million people in the U.S. that contends with sustained stress and anxiety.
Anything that helps reduce disease-causing anxiety should be explored and embraced. This includes journaling, meditation, exercise, and investing in nourishing relationships.
Now there's another, even easier one to adopt: weighted blankets.
Medical professionals have known about the positive effects of weighted blankets for years. Hospitals give them to patients to reduce anxiety and promote restful, deep sleep. Occupational therapists use them to calm children in distress, as well as those with autism, sensory disorders, and more.
"In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control," says Karen Moore, an occupational therapist.
But you don't have to be in a hospital to know or experience the fear of losing control.
There's plenty of science behind the calming effect of weighted blankets. The pressure of the weight gives your body proprioceptive input, also known as "deep touch pressure stimulation" (DTPS). DTPS, a well-known therapeutic modality, activates certain pressure points on the body that help relax your nervous system, improve your mood, and enhance sleep.
Basically, gentle, steady pressure on your body stimulates the production of serotonin, which lifts your mood. And serotonin does more than just make you feel better: it naturally converts to melatonin. Thus, similar to how swaddling a baby calms it and helps it sleep, a weighted blanket comforts adults and helps them sleep better.
One study found that 63% of participants reported weighted blankets as helping significantly reduce their levels of anxiety. Another demonstrated that those who used weighted blankets cited less anxiety than those who didn't, and that clinicians agreed with their assessments.
Research also shows that weighted blankets help "ground" the body during sleep. This effect, also known as "earthing", helps regulate your circadian rhythm, as well. One study showed that grounding not only helps reduce cortisol production (again, reducing stress), but also enhances the body's natural, 24-hour circadian rhythms--especially in women. This led to higher-quality sleep in research participants, as well as reduced stress and pain.
Finally, because weighted blankets help make up for low levels of serotonin in the brain, they can be used to fight more than just anxiety--they can help with ADHD, depression, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, Tourette's, Alzheimer's, cerebral palsy, Restless Leg Syndrome, and more (even menopausal symptoms).
Word has gotten around when it comes to weighted blankets. Earlier this year, the new weighted blanket company Gravity set out to raise $21,500 on Kickstarter. They ended up raising over $4.7M.
If you're going to try one, know that your weighted blanket should be around 10% of your body weight. And not everyone should use one: if you're recovering from a surgery, suffer from respiratory or circulatory problems, or have trouble regulating your temperature, steer clear.
You can get weighted blankets on Amazon, eBay, and elsewhere. They're not cheap (normally over $100), but possibly worth the investment, especially when you consider how much poor sleep costs you in terms of lost productivity.
The fact is, the more steady, grounded, and well-rested humans we have walking around, the better. There's no shame in using outside forces to help you relax, whether that's in the form of a song, a hot shower, an episode of Downton Abbey, an adult coloring book, or a bona fide (weighted) security blanket.
Keep calm and carry on.