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Are weighted blankets the new at-home therapy?

PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH SLEEP HEAVY

I first discovered weighted blankets over a year ago. I now can’t live without their comforting feeling, whether I’m relaxing on the couch or drifting off to sleep.

For me, a weighted blanket is not a luxury item, but instead a vital investment for my wellbeing. Suffering from post-concussion syndrome, I experience bouts of insomnia and anxiety, hampering my ability to switch off without help.

And using a weighted blanket to aid my sleep is second to none: weighted blanket company Sleep Heavy notes that a great sleep improves your mood, immune system, memory, energy levels, motivation and mindset.

So, how does a weighted blanket work?

Sleep Heavy’s blankets use a method called ‘Deep Pressure Stimulation’ to relax your body and calm your nervous system. The weight of your blanket triggers your body to make a switch from fight or flight mode to ‘rest and digest’ by helping your body transition from using your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to your parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS).

And by mimicking the feeling of a comforting hug, the blankets help your heart rate slow, to relax your muscles, and for serotonin and melatonin to be released. I’d describe this as a wave of calm washing over you. With anxiety and low mood being a common problem for individuals in the current day, a weighted blanket can help both adults and children.

Talking to paediatric occupational therapist Jamie Blank, she explains “anxiety has always been around but is something I get more referrals for now than I did ten years ago when first starting out in my work as an OT”.

So, why is anxiety affecting our lives, starting from a young age for some? Blank says “our world is a lot more overloaded with sensory input than it ever has been – we are less in nature, less active…there is less time for free play which children so desperately need to grow, learn and develop.”

And when anxiety starts interfering with a child’s life, it becomes a problem: “for example, a child who won’t go to sleep without their parents in the room, or a child who won’t attend school due to anxiety about peers and learning”, says Blank.

A weighted blanket is one tool Blank uses for children to calm the body. This way, the patient can work on feeling more regulated before Blank encourages them to try strategies that require ‘thinking’ – such as deep breathing and mindfulness.

Blank first completes a safety screening test before a patient tries a heavy blanket out. “The amazing thing is that they work instantly- a young person either takes to it straight away or they don’t.”

And they aren’t just used for sleep – Occupational Therapists use weighted blankets to help children with engaging in learning tasks, or before going out into a busy environment.

Weighted blankets also work well for children from trauma backgrounds. “Often these kids can’t tolerate touch and are highly dysregulated so the weighted blanket helps with providing calming and grounding input to their bodies and nervous systems. Some children need to use their blankets during psychological treatment to help them stay grounded”, says Blank.

There are also teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder who use them at school in a breakaway sensory room to help them regulate in between classes. Kapiti College is one school that offers blankets to their students for additional support.

And for Adults patients, Blank uses weighted blankets to aid a range of conditions including chronic pain, brain injury, anxiety and PTSD.

“The weighted blanket is a great non medicated intervention that helps with sleep and regulation for many of these adults. Sometimes I have to weather the initial reaction: “what on earth is that?!” But within minutes, most of my clients have sunk into a deep state of calm and relaxation. Some even manage to cut back on night-time pain medication as they start sleeping through the night, which is just great.”

Blank’s goal is for weighted blankets to become mainstream: how wonderful would it be if they were provided for night shift workers, or at the dentist or hairdressers to help us feel more regulated during an appointment?

When it comes to choosing a weighted blanket, Sleep Heavy recommends you pick one that weighs around 10% of your body weight. With blankets ranging from 2.2kg to 11.4kg, they are suitable for use for three years of age and over.

Ultimately, the ability to experience deep relaxation and great sleep can change everything. A weighted blanket may help you or your child to do just this, reduce your stress, and live better. Thanks to my weighted blanket, I now look forward to going to bed every night, craving the much-needed comfort my weighted blanket provides.

I recommend you browse Sleep Heavy’s stylish and comforting range of weighted blankets, and find out more about this life-changing product at sleepheavy.co.nz.

NB: This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Before trying a weighted blanket, check with your GP or OT about any pre-existing respiratory issues, medical conditions like high blood pressure or physical disabilities that may affect its use. It is crucial that whoever uses a blanket can give consent, safely get in and out of the blanket, and does not cover their head.

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