October 28, 2019
Better Sleep Under Pressure: How Do Weighted Blankets Work?
Learn about how a weighted blanket can reduce anxiety, relieve the symptoms of sleep disorders, lessen pain, and help you sleep better.
Sleep health is a popular topic when it comes to our general well-being, so it’s likely that you've been hearing more and more about the benefits of weighted blankets.
But how do they work?
It’s simple science, with amazing results. Weighted blankets use something called deep touch pressure (DTP) to help you feel more relaxed and sleep soundly. When pressure points on our bodies are activated (think: really tight hugs, or a deep tissue massage), DTP works to calm the body and make you feel happy, sleepy, and even less stressed.
In this article we'll give you the rundown on everything you need to know about weighted blankets, and dive into the science behind how a weighted blanket can reduce anxiety, relieve the symptoms of sleep disorders, lessen pain, and help you sleep better.
Here are some of the questions we'll answer:
1. Do weighted blankets work for anxiety?
2. How long does it take for a weighted blanket to work?
3. Which weighted blanket weight is right for me?
4. Do weighted blankets make you hot?
If you want the answers, keep reading. We'll get into the nitty-gritty of it all.
Hormones, happiness and sleep: the magical effects of deep touch pressure
Weighted blankets work by placing something called Deep Touch Pressure on the body. This type of pressure stimulation brings about a sense of calm and well-being. It's very similar to how babies respond to being swaddled - there's a feeling of security and relaxation beneath the pressure.
Have you ever felt SO relaxed following a few peaceful hours at the spa that you feel you could nap right in the lobby? That’s deep pressure therapy in action! It works by activating pressure points in your body, which leads to a whole series of important chemical reactions kicking into gear.
The first is an increased production of serotonin, often called our happy hormone.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is the hormone that makes you feel good. It has a huge impact on both our overall sense of wellbeing and most importantly, the quality of our slumber. You can get a surge in serotonin from a lot of things, like exercising or experiencing an afternoon of sunshine after a few days of rain. Another surge source? The pressure stimulation from a weighted blanket.
When you have a lot of serotonin coursing through you, your mood is improved, you may also feel relaxed, and you sleep better. This is because serotonin is also one of the precursors to melatonin, our most potent sleep-promoting hormone.
Studies also show that increased levels of serotonin correspond with decreased time spent in REM sleep. REM (or rapid eye movement) is the stage when we dream, but it's actually during non-REM stages that our brain can rest and regenerate.
Non-REM sleep stages are the most restorative, and leave us feeling well-rested. Increased serotonin levels help to increase the amount of time we spend repairing and healing at night.
What happens when our serotonin levels are too low?
The biggest signs that our serotonin levels have dropped? Poor snoozing and bad moods. And the frustrating thing is that one will often precede the other, on a cycle that can feel never-ending. (We all know how cranky we get after a terrible night's rest!)
Serotonin is key in maintaining a regular, healthy sleep cycle, so if you’ve been struggling to get on track for a while, low serotonin may be the culprit. Increases in anxiety or depression are also signs that your serotonin levels are either too low or not being used properly by your body.
So, what can you do to improve your shut-eye situation?
Serotonin is a natural molecule that our body creates, so it makes sense that we can use our body's own natural ability to increase it. Weighted blankets make this easy. We've also rounded up some other all-natural ways to increase your serotonin levels. Take a read and you'll be on your way to healthier, happier days in no time.
What about melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles, also known as our circadian rhythms or biological clocks. During the day, our melatonin levels remain low, allowing us to remain awake and alert. At night, darkness stimulates our pineal gland to produce melatonin.
This usually starts around 9 pm, but of course this depends on the time of the year (total daylight hours) and where in the world you live. For example, more sunlight at later hours makes it harder for melatonin production to kick into gear.
When melatonin production begins, it provides you with a feeling of sleepiness. Weighted blankets do a few key things to help with your body's natural production of melatonin:
Weighted blankets increase serotonin levels, which is our natural precursor to melatonin. Relaxed, calm, and cozy under a weighted blanket? Time for melatonin to arrive.
Weighted blankets can relieve stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol, which can prevent us from falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.
Which takes us to our next important question: how do weighted blankets reduce stress?
Weighted blankets lower cortisol and reduce stress
While weighted blankets increase several good hormones, like serotonin and melatonin, they can also reduce the presence of problematic ones as well. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, is a tricky one. Most of us either have too much or too little of it.
Here's the rundown:
- Too much cortisol and you likely feel stressed, high-strung, or wired all day; too little cortisol and you're going to feel fatigued, operating with low energy from sun-up to sundown.
- What we want is a sort of Goldilocks situation with cortisol - JUST the right amount. We want it a tad higher in the morning to help wake us up, and then a nice, balanced decrease throughout the day, leading up to bedtime and helping us to fall asleep.
- Suffice to say, a high cortisol level will surely interfere with you dozing off and getting a good night’s rest. Using a weighted blanket can help to lower your cortisol levels, which will reduce the amount of time before you’re able to relax and drift off into dreamland.
Studies have shown that people who used a weighted blanket in the night woke up with significantly reduced levels of cortisol in their bodies. This combination of more serotonin and melatonin (happy and sleepy) and less cortisol (stress) leads to a quieter mind and a more restful body throughout the night.
This is beneficial both in the short-term (like on Sunday morning when you can relax) and the long-term, as chronically elevated cortisol levels are linked to some major health problems. While cortisol is a normal and necessary hormone, when it remains too high for years on end, certain diseases are more likely to develop, including high blood pressure, heart disease, insulin resistance, and obesity.
Do weighted blankets work for anxiety?
Stress and anxiety affect the health and wellness of our entire body and may reduce our overall quality of life. They can steal your confidence, productivity, and happiness. They're often intertwined, and more often lumped together.
That's because they often have similar symptoms, like headaches, irritability, insomnia, and muscle tension, so the picture of anxiety can look a lot like stress, and vice versa. The good news is that the deep pressure from a knitted weighted blanket can help with all these symptoms.
Experts from Harvard University, the American Sleep Association, and The Cleveland Clinic have all acknowledged the benefits a weighted blanket can have on anxiety. This study published by Occupational Study in Mental Health revealed that 68% of their test group reported lower anxiety after using a cooling weighted blanket.
What differentiates stress from anxiety?
It most often comes down to the root of the problem, and how our bodies respond.
While stress tends to be caused by external factors–like deadlines, our relationships, job pressures, or major life changes, anxiety is often more internal, and is often triggered by the fear or memory of feeling overly stressed out.
Our body tends to remember how it felt when it was over-stressed, and the symptoms you experienced just once can return, almost like muscle memory, even if the external factors aren't there again.
Many people who suffer from anxiety report constant or unpredictable feelings of apprehension and dread, but can’t pinpoint or explain exactly why. Turns out, keeping your stress in check can also help reduce—and even prevent—anxiety.
At Bearaby, we’re on a mission to improve mental health, stop anxiety in its tracks, and help people to learn to manage stress more effectively (and naturally). A good night’s sleep is so crucial to preventing these stressful feelings and symptoms from taking over our lives.
Anxiety and lack of shuteye often become a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break free from. A peaceful midday nap can also do wonders, but it’s no replacement for 8 hours at night. Climb under a Bearaby weighted blanket, either during the day, or each and every night, and let DTP do its wonders. You’ll be calm, collected, and zen-ed out in no time.
Check out another of our blog posts to learn even more about how weighted blankets help reduce stress and anxiety.
Weighted blankets help reduce pain
Beyond stress and anxiety relief, weighted blankets can also reduce painful symptoms, which tend to negatively impact the quality of our sleep. It’s fairly common for those with chronic pain to undergo a vicious cycle of painful struggles while trying to bring on the nightly zzzz's.
Simply put, increased pain leads to worse sleep, and lack of sleep leads to more pain. A weighted blanket can remedy both, relieving pain and improving sleep quality by activating (you guessed it!) DTP.
Fibromyalgia is a common disorder that is accompanied by pain, and weighted blankets can help to relieve some of those bad feelings. The increased production of serotonin, as well as increased sleep time and quality of rest can result in an improvement in symptoms from fibromyalgia and other afflictions like Restless Legs Syndrome.
How long does it take a weighted blanket to work?
There isn't necessarily a simple answer to this question, as it has a lot to do with your personal sleeping habits, as well as your body's unique response to weight.
Sleeping under a weighted blanket isn’t much different from applying pressure to the body's trigger points to help slow down a person’s heart rate. Decreasing our heart's beats per minute, or BPM, leads to a sense of calmness, which some immediately notice upon first use.
Yet while some people feel instantly more relaxed, for others, it takes a bit of time, persistence, and routine-building. Regardless, consistent use over time will help you develop healthier slumber patterns, resulting in long-term benefits.
For first time weighted blanket users, we usually recommend easing your way under weight with these 3 steps:
- Ease in - use only half the blanket for the first 3-5 days. Cover just your legs for the first few days, for example, to help your body adjust to sleeping under the weight. It's a new sensation, and everyone reacts differently.
- Adapt to Pressure - after you ease in, start using your weighted blanket over half your body.
- Start a Deep Sleep Routine - now you're ready to cover your whole body and gradually develop a more healthy bedtime schedule. Scientists say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so consistent use of weighted bedding will round out your routine, resulting in overall benefits.
The benefits of sleeping under an evenly-distributed weight
Deep Touch Pressure works its magic when weight is evenly-distributed across your body. This is a key factor in whether a weighted blanket is actually working as it’s supposed to, and played a key role in the design of our Bearaby weighted blanket, The Napper.
With its knitted, looped design, The Napper melts around and forms to your body, hugging every point. Most other weighted blankets have sewn-in pockets of plastic pellets that shift around in the night, causing the fillers to bunch up and throw off the even weight distribution.
Since deep pressure on the body requires an even, all-encompassing weight, you can rest assured our best weighted blankets have you covered.
Do weighted blankets make you hot?
A question we're often asked is: but doesn't it get hot under all that extra weight? The answer: not under a Bearaby hand-knit weighted blanket!
Not only does the knit of our weighted blanket allow weight to be evenly distributed over your body, but air is able to circulate in and around the loops and weaves. So you get the benefit of DTP without the common complaint of overheating, which is often the case with traditional weighted blankets.
As part of our continued commitment to sustainability, we also steer clear of using any artificial or synthetic materials, meaning our blankets are always 100% natural and breathable. This is our guarantee that you’ll never get too hot or wake up feeling uncomfortable.
Our Tree Nappers are made with a cooling eucalyptus tree fabric called Tencel, making them perfect for hot sleepers. Based on its smooth fiber surface, Tencel is able to absorb moisture really well - it’s actually 50% more absorbent than cotton. So it’s breathable, breezy, and moisture wicking, for those that are prone to overheating during the night.
Which Bearaby weighted blanket is right for me? The Cotton Napper or the Tree Napper?
While both of our Nappers use natural materials and are ultra-breathable, the slight difference between the Tencel and Cotton does affect the way it feels, and how it may affect your slumbers.
If you tend to run hot at night, and often find yourself waking up feeling sweaty, then the Tree Napper is perfect for you. Tencel is slightly more cooling and more moisture-wicking than cotton. So if you tend to run hot, you'd enjoy the cool and breezy quality of this fabric.
If you like things more on the cozy side, don’t normally get overheated in the night, and want a weighted blanket you can use all year round, the Cotton Napper may be a better match.
• Weighted blankets deliver Deep Touch Pressure (DTP), which is similar to that of a long hug from a loved one, a much-needed message, or being swaddled as a baby (as if any of us remember what THAT feels like).
• The added pressure a weighted blanket puts on your body helps to produce more of your relaxation and sleep-inducing hormones, which can effectively reduce anxiety, alleviate pain, and help with insomnia as well as restless leg syndrome.
• Cortisol is our main stress hormone, and it’s a tricky one to manage. Most of us either have too much or too little of it. Too much cortisol and you are likely feeling wired. Too little cortisol and you’ll be feeling fatigued. What we want is a sort of Goldilocks situation with cortisol (random, but accurate analogy).
Did you know?
Among other causes, Restless Legs Syndrome is often the result of an iron deficiency. So, pull a Popeye and scarf down some spinach!