Imagine the feelings you have when you are anxious. You feel jittery, your heart is racing, your thoughts are swirling in your head, and you just can’t seem to relax. While those feelings are definitely no fun at any age, as adults, we (sometimes) know what to do to help ourselves calm down. But, when our kids have similar anxious thoughts and feelings, they don’t yet have the tools in their toolbox to relax and calm themselves down.
Now, imagine being a hyperactive or anxious child, and pulling a soft weighted blanket up over your little legs. Your heart starts beating more slowly, you don’t feel the same urge to run around anymore, and your mind starts to relax and even feel a little sleepy.
In other words, you feel calm.
These are all pretty amazing things that can come out of using a weighted blanket, but how does it work, exactly? Let’s take a look into the science behind how weighted blankets can help kids calm down, simply and naturally.
Weighted Blankets And Kids: The Science
The science behind the magic of weighted blankets comes down to hormones. There are two superhero hormones that weighted blankets can increase, and one hormone that sometimes acts as a villain that weighted blankets can decrease.
Let’s talk superheroes - first up, we have serotonin. This hormone is technically a neurotransmitter (meaning: a chemical that sends signals between our nerve cells) and is mainly associated with happiness and overall mood.
Children with low serotonin levels are more likely to be anxious or depressed. One study found that mothers with low serotonin levels were more likely to have children with ADHD, which means that serotonin has a genetic component. However, even if you are genetically predisposed to have lower serotonin, there is plenty you can do to boost it up, like using a weighted blanket.
So, how do weighted blankets lead to more of this happy hormone? Three words: Deep Touch Pressure. Similar to how our babies like being swaddled, a weighted blanket can provide similar comforting feelings when the babies grow up to become children. Deep touch pressure, from the extra weight in the blanket, activates certain points on our bodies that lead to increased production of serotonin, leading to calmer kiddos in no time.
Not only does serotonin make us calmer and happier, but it also helps us sleep, which leads us to our second calming superhero, melatonin. Serotonin is a natural precursor to melatonin, which is our main sleep-promoting hormone.
In our brains, there’s a tiny pinecone-shaped gland called the pineal gland, which is where serotonin goes through a conversion process to become melatonin. An increase in melatonin can lead to feelings of sleepiness, especially if it’s close to bedtime, when melatonin production is already ramping up.
Here’s a recap: Weighted blankets provide deep touch pressure to our kids. Deep touch pressure increases serotonin production. More serotonin leads to more melatonin. Result? Calm and relaxed kiddos. Now, let’s move on to the sometimes-villain, cortisol.
Calming Down Cortisol
Cortisol is our main stress hormone, which is necessary for our day-to-day lives, but we don’t want too much of it. Cortisol is also known as the fight-or-flight hormone, which goes back to our ancestral days living in the savannas. This primordial hormone was designed to help us decide what to do in dangerous situations - do we fight what’s attacking us or do we make a run for it?
Nowadays, the stressful situations we find ourselves in look a little different, especially for our kids. However, dealing with bullying, increasing homework and pressure at school, and anxiety-producing social situations can all ramp up their cortisol production in the same way.
Not only does this lead to our kids being stressed out and anxious, but high cortisol can also actually impact their learning abilities. Research has shown that cortisol elevation in children can become toxic to the parts of the brain that are linked to cognitive functioning.
So, how do we lower our kid’s cortisol? Answer: weighted blankets! Going back to deep touch pressure, the extra weight can help to reduce and balance out cortisol production, leading to calmness and less stress. (Kind of like how you feel after a deep tissue massage - totally blissed out.)
Whether you have a stressed-out kindergartner, middle schooler, or teenager, a weighted blanket can help them to calm down within minutes. (Just remember: they’re not for babies or under-two toddlers!)
Another benefit of using weighted blankets is how it can help children feel more grounded and centered. Grounding (and we’re not talking about the kind where you send them to their room), also known as earthing, is an ancient practice of simply putting our feet in the natural ground, like grass or sand.
Especially since the kids of today tend to choose technology over playing outdoors, getting grounded is even more important. Earthing can help to calm down the fight-or-flight response, leading to lowered cortisol and less stress.
This practice can also help to regulate your child’s sleep-wake cycle (also known as the circadian rhythm), which leads to better sleep at night. If you’re unable to get your children to the beach or grassy park (although we highly recommend getting outdoors!), a weighted blanket can provide similar grounding benefits.
How Weighted Blankets Help Calm Our Kids
Let’s take a look into the science behind how weighted blankets can help kids calm down, simply and naturally.
An anxious or stressed out kid can benefit from the healthy hormone cascade that comes with using a weighted blanket.
Serotonin and melatonin are increased with weighted blankets, while cortisol (our main stress hormone) gets reduced, leading to calmness and relaxation.
Kids can also benefit from grounding, or earthing, which involves barefoot contact with the natural ground, like sand or grass, to reduce cortisol levels.
Did you know?
Over 90% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the gut; our digestive system is sometimes even called our “second brain”. If you’ve ever had butterflies in your stomach or had a stomach ache when you were nervous, you know firsthand that the gut and the brain are connected!