A weighted blanket in simple terms is a heavy blanket that contains additional layers or weight within the fabric that gives you a “hugging” or wrapping feel when placed on the body. These blankets are also often referred to as anxiety blankets or gravity blankets, however they serve the same function. There is a significant amount of science behind the weighted blanket which is why they are used to help calm adults and children with anxiety, autism,
ADD, and other mental and physical disorders. Weighted blankets serve as a therapy aid to Deep pressure touch stimulation (DPTS), sensory integration therapy, and hug therapy. There are also several other uses for the blankets that include treating insomnia, helping those with PTSD, decreasing night sweats in menopausal women, and helping to control restless leg syndrome.
Weighted Blankets – Not Just for Anxiety and Autism
There are several benefits to having a weighted blanket handy in your home, classroom, or office.
- It can destress and relax you
- Decrease anxiety before an event or social function
- Create a calming sensation after a panic attack, temper tantrum, or long a day
- Aid in improved sleep patterns for those with insomnia
- Promote the ability to focus
- Activate touch sensory stimulation
- Prevent night sweats in menapausal women
- Help with PTSD
- Reduce or relieve restless leg syndrome
The Material that Makes Weighted Blankets Heavy
You are probably wondering what the difference is between a weighted blanket and a normal blanket or comforter. Each manufacturer uses slightly different materials and filling, but most of the innards are composed of polyethylene pellets. The pellets are typically food grade and approved by the FDA, meaning they are non toxic, pet friendly, odorless, and ultimately safe for home use. Most blankets are washer/dryer safe however, each brand recommends their own cleaning and drying instructions, which should be carefully read and followed.
The polyethylene pellets are very dense, which gives the blanket its weight. The pellets are very tiny, about half the size of a green pea, and are soft. The pellets are usually evenly distributed inside the blanket in a quilt like pattern so that they do not move from one side of the blanket to the other. This evenly distributes the blanket weight across your body.
Blanket Weights and Sizes
Weighted blankets come in a variety of sizes, weights, and patterns. Most manufacturers suggest that the blanket should have a weight that is 10% of the primary users body weight. Some brands tend to suggest they should be on the lower end near 7% of your body weight, while others say up to 12% of your body weight is encouraged.
The blankets come in an array of sizes, while some brands are only available in a standard size throw blanket. You will most often see manufacturers give you the option to choose the size that will fit a child or an adult.
The calming effect from weighted blankets
So how do weighted blankets actually calm someone down who has ADD or autism? The science behind it is quite fascinating and it has to do with our sense of touch, referred to as innocuous touching. There are two types of this sense: discriminative and affective touch. Both types of this sense are stimulated during the use of weighted blankets and are related to touch therapy, an increasingly popular treatment being used for those with a variety of mental disorders. This stimulation that is triggered is called deep pressure touch.
Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS)
Deep pressure stimulation is a calming yet firm pressure applied to the body. This stimulation can be specifically targeted to a certain part of the body like the shoulders or hands, or it can stimulate the entire body at once by using a weighted blanket. It is often referred to as deep pressure therapy, and is commonly used to treat anxiety, autism, and many other mental disorders. The stimulation itself impacts the nervous system and calms the body so that the parasympathetic nervous system is activated; the parasympathetic system calms the body down and allows it to rest. The sympathetic nervous system is what keeps the body alert, on edge, and stressed.
Many people who have anxiety, ADD, ADHD, or autism, often experience the anxious feelings associated with the sympathetic nervous system and it’s hard for them to switch it off to the parasympathetic system which will relax them. Deep pressure therapy promotes these calming feelings and the therapy may include targeted massages on the body, wearing a heavy vest or shirt, or using a weighted blanket in the evening or during the day in order to calm down and relax. Deep pressure therapies can be broken down into several other specific treatments and therapies.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Weighted blankets are used to help adults and children who undergo sensory integration therapy (SI). SI is a therapy for people who are understimulated or overstimulated by their senses. These patients are commonly referred to as having sensory processing issues – where noises, tastes, smells and textures can have an overwhelming and sometimes negative impact on one’s mood and actions at that time. For example, someone who has sensory processing issues can be easily stressed and agitated by loud dishes clanging together, or even the scent of fried food wafting in the air. Adults and children can become upset if they can’t process these senses. They can become unruly, disobedient, frightened, start to hyperventilate, or experience a panic attack. This is where the weighted blankets can come in handy, especially if you have one close by.
Weighted blankets are heavier than a standard throw blanket or everyday fleece. In fact, they are designed in a range of weights and can be purchased based on one’s size and age. The weighted blankets can be particularly useful to those who experience sensory processing issues because the sheer weight of the blanket when placed on the person can give them a calming effect that is often instant but to some can be gradual.
Touch therapy is a recent form of treatment for mental disorders that integrates deep pressure massages, the act of holding or hugging, and other touch sensory stimulations like haptic vibration. Haptic vibration refers to a gentle vibration feeling – like the one you feel when your phone vibrates to notify you of a text message. When combined, or performed individually, these different touch therapies can treat mental disorders and is an alternative psychotherapy that can replace medication or prescription drugs. The weighted blanket has been used in touch therapy along with weighted vests and jackets.
Discriminative touch refers to receptors on your skin that detect texture, pressure, vibration, shape, and other non painful sensations. This sense detects what is being felt and quickly processes the feeling, triggering the subsequent action that should be taken. For example, if you are digging in your purse to locate your chapstick, this sense helps you feel for the specific tube shape of the chapstick. Once the shape is detected, the receptors notify the brain it’s there, and you grab a hold of it and pull it from the purse. Another example would be stepping outside on a cold, windy day, and a gust of wind blows and chillingly burns your face. You immediately pull your hood over your head, or rearrange your scarf so you don’t feel the cold air. Discriminative touch does not have to be the literal act of touching something, but is more so the feeling of something up against your skin. This sense is activated when using a weighted blanket, because the body feels the pressure and heaviness of the blanket, as well as the warm fibers on the fabric, thus creating a therapeutic experience for the user.
Affective touch is the warming and affectionate touch or feeling you experience from hugging a loved one. This sense of touch directly relates to the healing experience that can be found in weighted blankets because you feel the “hugging” or “holding” sensations from the blanket that you would feel from a close family member or friend as they give you a hug or affectionate touch. The neurons found on your skin trigger different parts of the brain when affective touching occurs and can decrease heart rates, thus calming you down, giving you a sense of security, and decreasing anxiety. When your body starts to feel at ease, the brain releases serotonin which is the chemical compound that promotes happiness.
Discriminate touch senses a tangible feeling and then triggers a physical reaction, whereas affective touch senses the same tangible feeling but triggers a mental feeling or state of mind instead of an actual physical reaction. Both touch senses are activated with weighted blankets. The discriminate touch senses the soft texture of the fabric and the pressure the blanket is putting on them, causing the user to snuggle up in the blanket and get cozy. The affective touch from the feeling that they are being held or hugged, triggers the calming state of mind.
Therapeutic Holding or Hug Therapy
Hug Therapy or therapeutic holding is exactly what it sounds like – the act of hugging or being held in order to relax and calm ones self down. Hug therapy is another form of deep pressure touch and it can involve a therapist, doctor, or family member embracing and holding someone to relax them, or simply holding or applying deep pressure to a certain body part. The first body part that is targeted is the hands and sometimes this therapy is referred to as hand hugs. Firm but soothing pressure is applied to the hands and feet and a gentle massage is done, or holding a grip in one position for several seconds may be done before moving onto a more sensitive body part like the back, arms, or legs.
Hug therapy is used on autistic children because there is often a physical disconnect between a child and their mother. The child may not want to be touched and may become distressed if they are massaged or hugged. The therapy can still be performed, however the human interaction is eliminated by using a weighted blanket. The blanket performs the same hugging and gentle pressure that a parent or therapist could give, but without the personal and physical touch. Weighted blankets have become increasingly popular for this specific reason and have been a stepping stone for the person to eventually experience an actual skin on skin hug by a parent or therapist. The child relates to the hugging property of the blanket and can eventually associate that calming and relaxed feeling with the hug from their parent or therapist without distress.
Wilbarger protocol is another type of touch therapy that involves a special brush that has hundreds of tiny high density bristles that give a deep pressure massage or brush over the skin. The brushing is usually done every few hours during the day for a period of 1-2 weeks. This protocol can be used with a variety of other touch sensory objects and is often used with the combination of a weighted blanket after the Wilbarger protocol is performed. This therapy can be uneasy for a child or patient at first and may become agitated or uneasy; this is where the weighted blanket comes into play after the brushing is over.
Qigong Sensory Training
Qigong (QST) is an ancient Chinese meditation that calms the body and controls breathing. It is very similar to Tai Chi or yoga in that it increases air throughout the body, strengthens muscles, and mentally relaxes you. Qigong is another alternative treatment for anxiety, autism, PTSD, and a wide range of other mental conditions. Qigong uses touch sensory therapy by having a therapist or loved one perform a series of deep pressure massage techniques and pats throughout the body. For example, imagine your child is laying face down on the bed and you cup your hands gently but firmly around the back part of his head and softly pat 3 times. Then continue down to their shoulders with both hands and tap on their shoulders 3 times, followed by the same tapping down the back, on top of the buttocks, and down both legs. This is repeated several times before turning the child over and performing similar bats on the front side of the body. A series of simple finger massages and arm rotations are then done. This routine calms the body down and familiarizes touching with the child or adult that initially had issues being hugged or held by someone, or touched a uniquely textured surface.
QST is usually administered by a therapist, but many people are now performing Qigong at home to their loved one or are self administering it. If someone is particular sensitive to being touched, you may want to use a weighted
blanket before or during Qigong. If you cover the person with a weighted blanket and perform the massage, they can feel the weight of your movements and they are not directly touching the body – this could be a good transition into starting the QST directly on top of their clothes, as the blanket then becomes the barrier between the administer and receiver of the massage. Some people may frown upon this however, as they think the energy from the administer will be broken with the use of the blanket.
What’s important to remember is that all massages and QST techniques work differently for everyone and can positively or negatively impact them. You can tailor the massage or techniques to fit your child or loved ones preferences. Anxiety and stress levels should decrease after 5 minutes of starting the Qigong, but it may take several daily treatments in order to determine which pats or presses work for that specific person. As the treatments progress over several weeks or months, a new pattern could be introduced and administered that perhaps was not working beforehand. Familiarity and dozens of treatments can eventually open the door to being touched and not fear or dread textures or the act of being hugged or held.
Anxiety Blanket Brands
Sommerfly Sleep Tight Weighted Blanket
Sommerfly is an independently owned and operated business by two sisters based out of Rhode Island and their products are made in the USA. Their product the Sleep Tight blanket.
Their style starts at $136 and can go up to $296 depending on the size blanket you need. The Sleep Tight is available in 5 sizes, 4 of which are for children between the ages of 3 and 15 based on their weight. The largest size which is an XL is recommended for ages 16 and older. The dimensions of the blanket also increase along with the blanket weight as the sizes go up. The Sleep Tight blanket is available in 17 different patterns that you can choose from at checkout and there is also a duvet cover that can be purchased separately for $56. There is an up charge for covers larger than the Medium size.
The Coolmax Blanket is manufactured by Weighting Comforts, a mother-son team based out of Nashville, TN that employs refugees to help hand sew the fabric and components.
The Coolmax ranges in price from $269 to $299 depending on the weight. There are 15lb, 20lb, and 25lb weight options that are available in two colors. Weighting Comforts recommends that you should have a blanket that weighs 10% of your body weight.
The Gravity Blanket is a kickstarter company that raised over $4Million between April 26, 2017 and May 30, 2017. Gravity offers three weights of 15lb,
20lb, and 25lb and is only available in the color grey and one size measuring 48″ x 72″. Gravity specifically designed its blanket for people with insomnia, autism, and post traumatic stress disorder. Although well known and marketed in the industry, Gravity started to experience some unexpected fulfillment issues once the kickstarter campaign took off.
Blanquil is a North Carolina based company that was recently trademarked in 2017. Unlike other brands, Blanquil is available in the 20lb weight only. It is available in two colors, grey and taupe, and retails for $169. Blanquil stimulates the nervous system with deep pressure stimulation and leaves you feeling hugged and relaxed. Blanquil claims that relaxation onset by the blanket promotes a deeper REM sleeping cycle.
SensaCalm is a Tennessee based company that has been family owned and operated for over 10 years. SensaCalm is unlike any other manufacturer in the industry because they can customize the weighted blanket in several ways. Their target market is clearly children due to the number of children’s fabric patterns; they have 9 pages of patterns to choose from! SensaCalm is focused on helping families with loved ones who have a sensory processing disorder, a typical symptom of those with autism or anxiety.
SensaCalm blankets can significantly range in pricing due to all of the customizable features. The base price is $89.95 but can range up to $349.45 if you choose the largest size, weight, duvet cover snaps, and monogramming. The SensaCalm blanket is available in 5 sizes ranging from Small, Medium, and Large to Full Size and Queen Size. You can also choose from several different weights ranging from 3lbs to 40lbs, based on the size and weight of the child or adult. The fact that these blankets are so customizable makes them truly the perfect fit for the end user.
Mosaic Weighted Blanket
Mosaic is a Texas based company that has a very large assortment of fabric patterns and weights to choose from. You can select from 4 different sizes as well as weights that range from 5lbs to 20lbs. There is also a more customizable option if you are interested in a certain weight and fabric on a blanket.
Mosaic advertises that their blankets can help benefit not only those with autism and ADD, but also other neurobehavioral disorders such as fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, Rhett’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and Down Syndrome.
The mosaic blanket ranges in price from $94.95 – $224.95 depending on the style, weight, and size of the blanket.
What You Should Know Before You Buy a Blanket
What to Look For
Most websites or retail locations will have a sizing chart specific to the brand that will have a suggested size for the user’s body weight and/or height. Make sure that you are not purchasing a queen size weighted blanket for a child that is 50 lbs. You will need a smaller throw-size that will better fit their body size, thus being more effective.
- Blanket Weight
It’s important to read up on what the manufacturer suggests as the appropriate blanket weight for the user. The industry standard is around 10% of one’s own body weight, however everyone has their own personal preference tailored to their disorder. If you feel more calm with more weight than is suggested, you may want to go with a weight that is a few more pounds heavier. If the user has severe touch sensory issues and feels more comfortable with a lower weight, then you should decrease your weight choice by several pounds. If the manufacturer only has one weight option, you may want to consider shopping around elsewhere so you can get a more tailored blanket that will suite your needs. One size fits all sizing and weight does not typically work in this industry.
- Is it Safe?
One really important factor when deciding on a brand of blanket to purchase is how safe it actually is. Are the poly pellets really FDA approved and is it really safe to put in the dryer? Make sure you are aware of the fine print descriptions that the brand lists. They have tested their blankets and are standing behind their content and care instructions, so you should follow exactly what they say.
Always keep your medical professional or therapist in the loop with any weighted blanket purchase or use. They can advise on the best size and weight that is right for you or your loved one.
Be aware of the return and exchange policies before purchasing, especially if you are choosing a custom fabric, size, and weight. Most custom orders cannot be returned, especially if they are opened, soiled, or laundered. Other manufacturers have 30 day hassle-free return policies to entice you to order; just be aware of any hidden restocking fees or warehouse fees that may be associated with a return. As long as you read the fine print of the return policy and are making the best decision as far as weight and size, you should be good to go.
Disadvantages of Anxiety Blankets
- They are Heavy
Weighted blankets are exactly their name – a blanket that is weighted and heavy. This is not exactly a disadvantage, however it can be problematic if the blanket accidentally covers a very small child or animal, as the weight itself can keep something small from getting out of it. This can lead to even more stress, uneasiness, and fear. The heaviness can also become a problem if the blanket covers your face, as it can limit the amount of oxygen you inhale, and decrease the airflow from entering and exiting underneath the blanket. As long as you keep the blankets away from newborns and small pets, as well as keeping your face and head free of the blanket, there should not be any problems.
- Space Hoggers
Depending on what size blanket you order, certain styles may take up the already limited room in your linen closet. If you don’t intend to use it every night in your bed, you may want to choose a throw blanket size and neatly fold it and throw it over the couch out of the way. Otherwise you may have a giant comforter laying on your couch all day long.
- Specific Care Instructions
Most weighted blankets are machine washable and dryer safe, however there are a few brands out there that suggest they should be line-dried or hand washed. If you are all about easy maintenance, this may be a deal breaker for one or two brands.
- Not the Cheapest Blanket
They say you get what you pay for, and that is exactly the case with these blankets. Some say they are worth every penny in order to get some rest and calm their ever-racing mind down. The initial price tag may be hard to swallow but like many other household linens, the blanket will most likely be around for 5+ years which eases the blow.
Weighted Blanket Clinical Research
University of Massachusetts – Amherst
In 2009, Marnie Bonner, a senior studying mechanical engineering, performed a clinical trial on weighted blankets for her senior thesis. Bonner compared five different brands of weighted blankets and meticulously documented the benefits of each as well as their downsides. Bonner’s motivation for this study was due to the increased demand for the blankets in psychiatric facilities and hospitals. Weighted blankets are commonly used in residences nationwide to calm anxiety or autism in children and adults, but are not specifically designed for medical grade use in public settings such as doctor’s offices, hospitals, or nursing home facilities. Since the blankets are a great fit for psychiatric facilities in that they can create a calming environment for patients, the existing styles would need to be redesigned. This became Bonner’s mission. She was determined to find or design a medical grade weighted blanket.
After Bonner completed her analysis of major brand weighted blankets, she compiled a list of criteria and specs for medical grade weighted blankets and designed a prototype blanket that would be safe, sanitary, and effective if used in a hospital setting.
Dr. Mary Temple Grandin’s Hug Machine
Mary Temple Grandin of Boston, Massachusetts was one of the first women who outspokenly discussed her autistic habits and hypersensitivity in the 1990’s. She is known for her prototype hug machine or “squeeze machine” that she designed during high school to alleviate hypersensitivity and help her with her own autism. She developed the hug machine concept after visiting her Aunt’s cattle farm where she witnessed cattle being confined in squeeze chutes, temporary close-quarter holding areas that hold the cattle in place during vaccinations, medical treatments, or branding. The chutes hold the animal in place so as not to move, and provide a sense of calmness to the cattle during the medical treatment process. Dr. Temple Grandin translated this concept into a prototype that could be used for human patients that would serve as a calming holding restraint.
Dr. Grandin went on to publish several books and scientific articles on autism and treatments. She was also an active advocate for the humane treatment of animals and livestock. Most of her career was dedicated to handling cattle in slaughter houses and how to provide the least stressful and painless slaughtering process. The weighted blanket itself derived from Grandin’s squeeze machine.
1994 Study by Creedon
Margaret Creedon’s clinical study findings suggested that autistic children who used Grandin’s Hug Machine for prolonged use actually experienced better behavior and were more calm than their peers who did not use the hug machine.