At the end of the fall semester this year, my stress levels were off the charts, and when I get anxious or stressed, my brain goes a million miles a minute and I can kiss my recommended eight hours good night.
Needless to say, a stressed out student and lack of sleep do not go hand-in-hand when it comes to being productive.
I found out about weighted blankets purely by chance.
I was feeling cold one night and decided to grab an extra blanket I had laying around—the green thing is completely the wrong size for my bed, with the corners spilling off the sides onto the floor. I was too cozy to care, so I drifted off to sleep.
To my surprise, that night was the best sleep I had all semester; I felt refreshed, calm, and collected-—something brand new to my end-of-semester frazzled brain. I kept the blanket on my bed, hoping this wasn’t just some miraculous one night extravaganza, but day after day I had blessed nights of sleep—going to bed was a warm embracing hug rather than an endless toss and turn. I was able to focus better on my last projects, so I decided to dig further into why this simple act worked so well.
It turns out that weighted blankets are used by a variety of people, from those with ADHD to soldiers serving overseas—there are even companies that offer custom-made options. In order to gain more knowledge on the matter, I had a heart-to-heart with my friend Lys Morton, who uses a weighted blanket to ease symptoms of his Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), where the body is not able to process sensory stimulation to meet appropriate responses to the environment.
SPD comes with four main categories: hypersensitivity, hyposensitive, sensory seeking, and sensory avoiding. While some people may be a part of different categories, Morton is hypersensitive, sensory seeking, and sensory avoiding.
“Due to the [sensory] seeking, my body is constantly in need of sensory input,” says Morton. “If I’m not getting enough input, my body will put itself in panic mode. The weighted blanket gives a constant sensory input, along with the serotonin release, to help my body regulate and remain calm during sleep.”
Not only does the blanket have a calming effect due to the feeling of security, it creates with its mild pressure, and the release of serotonin created by the pressure helps regulate mood, sensory perceptions, and, as with my case, sleeping patterns.
Though the weight of an extra blanket was enough for me, those that require or want a custom-made blanket have many options, with companies specializing in creating custom blankets. There are DIY options out there, and trying it out is something Morton would recommend.
“I made my first blanket out of Ziploc bags, rice, and duct tape,” he says. “It was a good way to test if the blanket would work. It was also a massive conductor of heat, and I used to sleep with the window open all the time to keep cool enough. Eventually it broke apart so many times that my first roommate made one for me. She sewed a bunch of what were basically bean bags together into a quilt that was the required weight.”
Though physiotherapists recommend a 10 per cent bodyweight plus one pound as a standard weight recommendation, some may like it to be lighter or heavier depending on their needs.
“It’s sort of the unwritten code that if you’re doing more than 10 per cent and two pounds, you’re only using the blanket for less than an hour, and it’s for an added therapy reason,” says Morton. “For those who are hyposensitive, extra weight might be needed to help them ‘feel’ their body and the resistance. I’m seeking and avoiding largely due to being so incredibly hypersensitive.”
The weight formula is designed to be a safe weight that prompts the body to release higher levels of serotonin, though it may not work for everyone.
My Weighted Blanket, an American weighted blanket business, says that proper blankets should “fit an individual and not a bed,” nor should it hang off the bed (unlike my unintentional weight blanket), as the weight could be unevenly distributed and thus defeating its intended purpose and even causing harm.
A common pattern of weighted blankets is the Grow with Me pattern, where pockets are sewn in to add and remove weight as desired.
Though the weighted blanket isn’t the be-all and end-all solution, it is a great resource. It’s no wonder that such a wide range of diseases and conditions utilize this resource in order to ease their symptoms, from PTSD and anxiety, to lupus, and many more.
For more information on weight therapy, visit <myweightedblanket.com> or <psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201112/choosing-blanket-help-you-sleep>.