Depression can impact and interfere with a lot more than just your mood. From a sudden drop in energy levels to a lack of focus, depression negatively affects the way you feel, think, and act!
If you are suffering from depression or have experienced it at any point in your life, you know it is much more serious than just “being sad”. Depression makes it difficult to concentrate, negatively affects your productivity at work, makes you irritable affecting your relationships with friends and family, and worst of all puts you at a risk for health ailments like hypertension.
It is a serious disorder mostly resulting from a chemical imbalance in your body, a sudden drop in serotonin and melatonin levels—the neurochemicals that trigger sleep, happiness, and relaxation.
Fortunately, there are some non-invasive and natural ways to deal with this illness and one such effective solution is the use of “weighted blankets”. Yes you heard that right!
Weighted blankets offer a form of deep pressure therapy (DPT) that triggers the release of neurotransmitters—serotonin and melatonin—in your body, helping you relax and feel better instantly. They also improve the functioning of the nervous system, thereby reducing feelings of restlessness and fatigue.
This is the exactly what anti-depressants do but with several unwanted side-effects. Besides being a safe and natural alternative to such drugs, weighted blankets can also be used to complement existing therapies for improved results.
The science behind weighted blankets
Weighted blankets are pretty much what they sound like—blankets with added weight in them—ideally 10% of your bodyweight plus a pound or two! The material that makes it heavier can be of different types, with the most common ones being glass beads and plastic poly pellets. These are sewn into compartments throughout the blanket to keep the weight evenly distributed. The fabric of the blanket can vary depending on the manufacturer.
Interestingly, weighted blankets have been in use for decades especially in paediatric clinics, dental setups, and in centres for people with special needs. However, these are now gaining mainstream popularity with more and more studies talking about their therapeutic benefits.
Weighted blankets harness the power of deep touch pressure (DTP) therapy to gently stimulate the pressure receptors located all over your body. DTP stimulates the sensory glands making you feel relaxed, grounded and safe. This in turn enhances the secretion of serotonin and melatonin—the neurotransmitters that promote feelings of wellness and joy.
In simpler terms, weighted blankets promote relaxation and can be used in as many realms as possible. Psychological and stress related disorders such as depression manifest themselves through a variety of symptoms. Weighted blankets can help alleviate each of these symptoms making you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
Breaks the depression-induced insomnia spiral
A predominant and common symptom of depression is insomnia or sleeplessness. As per a Consumer Reports study, “70% of US adults struggle to fall asleep at least one night a week” leading to a rise in sleep-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Using a weighted blanket while falling asleep can assist the body in transitioning to a state of absolute relaxation and calm. The use of deep pressure therapy is known to spur the production of serotonin and melatonin in the body, both useful for relieving stress and depression.
Physically the weight of the blanket gives a “cocooning” effect making you feel warm and snuggled. This is another reason why sleep quality is significantly better when using weighted blankets. Now who doesn’t want to feel that way after a stressful day!
And not just while sleeping, using a weighted blanket at multiple times throughout the day can increase the production of serotonin in your body, keeping you in a heightened state of relaxation. This is perhaps why weighted blankets come in both lap form (for day) and full-body blanket form (for night).
Reduces pre-sleep stress
A lot of people who suffer from depression report heightened levels of restlessness around their bed time. This is a common occurrence when you have a had hard day or have a major presentation or event planned for the next day.
Constant worry and fear result in an increase in cortisol production, the stress hormone that triggers the “fight or flight response” in your body, making it even more difficult for you to turn in.
Wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket facilitates the release of stress through deep touch therapy and helps you calm down. Doing so before bedtime can perk you up and prepare your body for a relaxed, good night’s sleep.
And the benefits don’t just end there! You also wake up feeling more energized and calm—just what you need to get through your big day.
Reduces anxiety and restlessness
Deep touch therapy is especially useful for those high-stress events when your cortisol levels (stress inducing hormone) peak up. A clinical experiment testing the effectiveness of a 30-pound blanket found that two-thirds of participants experienced lower levels of stress and anxiety after using the weighted blanket.
Yet another study done in a dental setting showed that use of such blankets produced physiological changes in the patient’s nervous system, helping them calm down before their appointment. It’s therefore a good idea to keep a weighted blanket handy for instant relief in high stress situations.
The pressure exerted through weighted blankets help “ground” the body during sleep. This effect, known as “earthing” reduces cortisol production and regulates your body’s natural, 24-hour circadian rhythm. This obviously translates into higher energy levels, better productivity, and improved health.
Relaxes the nervous system
The nervous system controls and dictates how we feel and respond to external and internal stimuli at any given point. If you are feeling agitated or jittery it has something to do with the signals being triggered by your nervous system.
Weighted blankets can improve the functioning of your nervous system by applying deep and even pressure across the right sensory points. They enhance the secretion of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone.
It is a proven technique being used in clinics to help patients physically calm down and reduce unwanted restlessness.
Mimics a hug
There is no debate about the “cocooning” effect or the benefit that warm swaddling can have—like the comfort of a mother’s womb. There are several studies that show the medical benefits of regular hugging and a weighted blanket offers similar results.
A warm hug triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that regulates blood pressure and promotes feelings of relaxation. Weighted blankets simulate these feelings and create a more relaxed environment for you to fall asleep.
The even distribution of pressure across your body imitates the feeling of being swaddled tightly, encouraging deep sleep.
How do I choose the right weighted blanket?
Now that you are convinced about the benefits of weighted blankets for depression, how do you find the one that’s best for you.
Your own weight should be the primary guiding factor here! It is clinically recommended to use a blanket that is 5 to 10 percent of your body weight plus a pound or two—e.g., If you weigh 100 pounds, a blanket that weighs 11 to 12 pounds would be good for you; for a young child that weighs 30 pounds, a 4 to 5-pound blanket can work well.
Next is choosing a material. From flannel to synthetic fibres, weighted blankets are available in many fabrics. It is always best to choose the ones made from natural fiber such as cotton. Synthetic ones can get quite hot and uncomfortable, and thus might not be suitable for prolonged use.
The third important aspect to look for in a weighted blanket is the filling. You can take your pick from glass beads, poly pellets, or food grains like rice and barley. Go for a more neutral filling if you have any food sensitivities or allergies.
A majority of weighted blankets use poly pellets, but glass beads are denser, offering the same weight with less bulk. Since the beads are tiny, breakage should not be a concern. Whatever filling you choose, make sure the weight is evenly distributed for continual pressure on the sensory points.
Check for the dimensions too. A weighted blanket is meant for individual use and should ideally be smaller than your bed, so it doesn’t slide off to one end. Compact blankets are also easy to carry around and maintain.
Buying a weighted blanket of your choice should not be a problem either. A quick search online will give you a list of brands that manufacture these blankets in different materials, shapes and sizes. Look for the ones that offer extended warranty and personalization options. You can see our Rocabi review here.
Certain insurance plans cover weighted blankets, if you have a prescription from your doctor. Check with your provider if this option is available to you.
A word of caution…
While the therapeutic benefits of weighted blankets are well documented through clinical studies, these aren’t for everyone. Since these are considerably heavy and generate some amount of heat, you should consult with your doctor if you:
- have respiratory problems
- have circulation issues
- are suffering from a chronic health condition
- have temperature regulation issues.
In addition to the above, these blankets are not advisable for babies, toddlers, geriatric patients, and anyone who is not fit enough to move out of the blanket on his own.
Weighted blankets – a safe and effective solution
The world around us is a stressful place. The barrage of tragic stories highlighting the news channels. The ever-increasing work pressure. The constant struggle to compete and succeed. It’s never been harder to “switch off” and relax!
It is no wonder that depression and other stress-related disorders are on a rise. Weighted blankets help you relax and fight such disorders in a non-invasive, natural and safe manner. They can aid relaxation and promote a feeling of calm.
Several studies have proven the therapeutic effects of weighted blankets and their effectiveness in treating depression. Investing in a weighted blanket is a natural alternative to anti-depressants and other invasive therapies. Regular use can help you stay calm, feel more energized, and feel happy inside-out.