Chances are you have heard of a weighted blanket before. You must have also known that it has numerous health benefits to people with sensory processing disorders. However, what still amazes you is why these blankets are so popular to everyone. At some point, you must have stopped to think about what the science behind these weighted blankets could be.
What makes a weighted blanket this famous?is a question that continues to linker in your mind.
But you will be even more surprised to learn the fascinating facts and science behind the weighted blankets.
You will be surprised to know that the secret to its fame is in its name. Yes, that’s right.
Today, we will break those chains of imaginations and give you a comprehensive overview of the origin of the weighted blanket, who invented it, how it was invented, how you stand to benefit from it, and any other information that you need to know about your next favorite doll. No, I am just joking.
But first things first, what is a weighted blanket? Let’s begin with the definition and understanding of what this magic blanket is.
What is a Weighted Blanket?
Weighted blankets resemble the normal blankets even though they have a therapeutic function.
The only difference is that they have extra weights added onto them. It is these extra weights that give a weighted blanket its fame.
The extra weights on a weighted blanket come from the use of filler materials such as plastic poly pellets, micro glass beads, steel shots among others. These weights are fastened into the pockets within the fabric of the weighted blanket to ensure that they are evenly distributed.
Weighted blankets also differ from the normal blanket by its size. With weighted blankets, their size is much smaller and fitter than the normal blanket.
The size has been designed to fit the body well with no loose hanging from the bed. This ensures that the weight of the blanket rests squarely on the body giving it maximum pressure.
Weighted blankets provide the calmness needed by people with sensory-related symptoms. They have been used by Occupational Therapists to make their patients relax and calm down for a night of better sleep.
The weighted blankets stimulate the pressure points on our skin to release serotonin, ‘a happy hormone ‘. The presence of serotonin on the body guarantees the production of melatonin hormone in large quantities.
Melatonin calms and soothes the body to sleep, hence famously known as the sleep hormone.
A Brief History of Weighted Blankets
The idea of weighted blankets was coined out over 20 years ago by a California native Keith Zivalich. It was initially referred to as a magic weighted blanket in 1998.
Zivalich got the idea when his 10-year-old daughter placed a Beanie Baby over his shoulder to help him relax while driving to the family vacation.
The weight and pressure exerted by the little Beanie on his shoulder were all he needed to come up with a beanie blanket that would then grow to the current weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets came up as a result of a need in society. It was initially used to treat children with sensory-related disorders such as autism, PTSD, and severe anxiety.
This special therapeutic tool was then adopted in hospitals and used for therapies. It was touted as a medical tool and most of the patients associated it with a hospital.
Today, manufacturers have come up with different designs to make it more like a normal blanket and remove the “therapy blankets” or “medical equipment” notion.
How does a Weighted Blanket Work?
The science behind weighted blankets describes that weighted blankets work by applying gentle but firm pressure on the body. This theory was pioneered by Dr. Temple Grandin after suffering from autism since her childhood.
Temple Grandin observed cows being led through a compression device to calm them during vaccination. Her observation was that cows were calmer and docile when they were gently squeezed.
Dr. Grandin used this experience to recall how she used to feel as a child when she was held or hugged. Through this research, she came up with the idea of deep touch pressure (DTP) to help people with autism experience the benefits of a hug.
Dr. Grandin built a hug machine that uses the principle of deep touch pressure to apply a gentle but firm pressure on the body stimulating it to release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone in the brain.
The weighted blankets have then been designed to use the same principle of DTP in calming its users.
Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation Therapy
The research about autism in the 1980s resulted in the discovery of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) therapy. DPT was related to the response that autistic children exhibited when hugged or held firmly.
The research was pioneered and furthered by Dr. Temple Grandin, a victim of autism. Her research was based on the personal experiences and observations of livestock physiological responses.
With DTP, the body gets a firm but gentle pressure which stimulates the sensory nerves to produce serotonin hormone.
Serotonin is responsible for a relaxed mind hence lowering heart rate, respiration, and increased blood flow to the body.
The presence of serotonin hormone in the body stimulates the production of melatonin which is a sleep hormone. This is necessary for a night of better sleep and a relaxed body.
DTP theory provides the science behind weighted blankets. The design of weighted blankets uses DTP stimulation hence appealing so much to the people in the autism spectrum.
What are the Benefits of a Weighted Blanket?
There are several health benefits of weighted blankets. These benefits appeal to both the sick and the healthy.
Initially, weighted blankets were used solely as a therapeutic tool, but it has since then been adopted by all and sundry.
Several conditions can be alleviated with the use of a weighted blanket. In fact, it is a tool that should find its way to any household.
Some of the conditions that are alleviated by weighted blankets include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), restless leg syndrome (RLS), fibromyalgia, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
The people who suffer from any of the conditions end up with stress, anxiety, and depression. This results in insomnia.
Repeated lack of sufficient or quality sleep leads to sleep deprivation. This is a very big problem facing US citizens with a record 60 million of the US adults affected. The statistics show that over 100,000 annual fatalities in the US are directly attributed to sleep deprivation.
Weighted blankets are meant to alleviate symptoms related to the conditions that lead to sleep deprivation. By stimulating the body to release melatonin, the sleep hormone, weighted blankets can help reduce the number of sleep-deprived Americans.
Are There Risks Associated With a Weighted Blanket?
Despite the benefits that come with a weighted blanket, there are glaring risks associated with it.
Weighted blankets are risky for children and toddlers. Children lack the physical strength to put the blanket away should they have difficulties in breathing or feel overwhelmed by its weight. However, children above two years can use a weighted blanket under the supervision of an adult.
The elderly and the visibly week should also be cautious when using a weighted blanket. The weighted blanket might be too heavy or overwhelm them.
While choosing a weighted blanket, the right size and weight should be considered. The filler material used and the fabric are also very important. This is because some people may react to the filler materials or the fabric used.
Patients with diabetes, open wounds, or rashes are also not spared. Their condition may worsen as a result of using a weighted blanket. This could be due to changes in temperature or the type of material used. Always ensure that before using a weighted material, seek a doctor’s advice on the effect it might have on your underlying conditions.
Weighted blankets can also give room for molds, bacteria, and mites to thrive. This requires that the weighted blankets are always kept clean. However, cleaning a weighted blanket is not a straightforward task like a normal blanket. Care should be taken and proper cleaning instructions followed.
The science behind weighted blankets explains why this therapeutic tool has become a bedroom essential.
The deep touch pressure (DTP) therapy has enabled people living with autism, ADHD, PTSD, and fibromyalgia to get a night of better sleep. This widely adopted therapy has been mimicked in the design of weighted blankets hence making it available to everyone that needs the therapy.
Weighted blankets apply firm but gentle pressure on the body stimulating the sensory nerves to produce serotonin, a happy hormone. It is this hormone that is responsible for the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Melatonin calms and soothes the body and the mind ensuring that they are relaxed.
Weighted blankets recreate a hug only that with it, you do not need a sleep partner to soothe and calm you to sleep every night.