Updated by Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L
Are you wondering what a weighted blanket is?
Are you wondering how they work and what there are to using one?
Are you wondering if there are weighted blankets made specifically for adults and what you need to know about getting one?
If so, this post is for you!
In this post, you'll learn exactly:
If you read our article on Weighted Blanket Therapy, you won’t be surprised to hear that weighted blankets for adults can have a positive impact on sleep, anxiety, autism, sensory issues, and ADHD.
While weighted blankets have been used for decades within the special needs community, and particularly for children with special needs, this doesn't mean that they can't have an impact on adults with or without special needs.
Before we dive into the science-backed benefits of weighted blankets for adults, let's take a quick overview of what a weighted blanket is.
Weighted blankets offer proprioceptive or deep touch pressure (DTP), also called Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), to the body. Since we know that proprioceptive, deep touch pressure helps to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate some brain functions, weighted blankets are used to help with sensory modulation and regulation. There are also tools available on the market, such as weighted vests and weighted lap pads. These tools also provide DTP, howeverare typically used more commonly during daytime hours. They provide the same benefits and effects as weighted blankets, so they are another potential option to explore.
Sensory-based interventions that have a DTP component have been shown to have a calming, organizing effect on one’s nervous system. Like children, adults are also finding out the benefits of weighted blankets for themselves! Learn more about DTP here.
Weighted blankets come in different size, weights, and materials. When it comes to these factors, it typically comes down to user preference.
Often times, people will be looking for blankets that help with sensory issues and offer sensory inputs. Because of the DTP, all weighted blankets provide some sensory inputs. This can be especially helpful for those with autism spectrum disorder, as they often have over-reactive sensory systems.
However, if you are looking for specifically for a sensory blanket for adults, then you'll typically want to find a fabric that you enjoy the texture of.
An example of a fabric that gives extra sensory input is the dotted minky fabric, as seen the picture above, which is what we use with our blankets here at Harkla.
Weighted therapy blankets aren't just great to cuddle with!
In a 2008 study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, use of a 30-lb weighted blanket resulted in adult participants reporting lower anxiety (63%), lower physiological data (blood pressure, pulse rate, pulse oximetry), and positive calming effects (78%). These effects also have a positive impact on sleep, as sleep is more restorative when anxiety is low and factors such as blood pressure and pulse are well-maintained. Many people with sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome, have difficulty falling or staying asleep, and a weighted blanket can help with those issues by providing calming, deep touch pressure.
Weighted blanket use in mental health settings, proactively and in crisis situations, had a calming effect that was reported to lower stress and provide a coping strategy in times of anxiety. The use of weighted blankets has been expanded to include people with mental health diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADHD, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Study participants reported feeling safe, calm and grounded following weighted blanket use.
More recently, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering found the physiological effects of Deep Touch Pressure (medical data like heart rate, blood pressure, etc) corresponded with the participants’ reportedly lower anxiety levels following weighted blanket use. The study’s data validated a change in nervous system activity after deep touch pressure (weighted blanket) was introduced. Since we know that people who experience sensory overstimulation experience real physiological symptoms, this study supports that deep touch pressure can help regulate those medical changes.
Research indicates the potential positive effects of weighted blanket use for reducing anxiety, lowering physiological indicators of stress (blood pressure, pulse rate), positive calming effects, and impacts on sleep time and behavior. Some inpatient psychiatric units are turning to weighted blankets to promote regulation in adults with mental illnesses both proactively, and in crisis situations, in lieu of seclusion and restraint practices.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has difficulty integrating messages received from the environment. It is common in people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however many individuals without an ASD diagnosis still experience sensory processing issues. For example, a person with sensory processing disorder may experience a soft noise as a very loud, overwhelming noise. SPD often first presents in childhood but often persists into adulthood. Most individuals with SPD find ways to manage their environments and more effectively cope with sensory stressors. A weighted blanket is one tool that can assist individuals with SPD.
As discussed above, weighted blankets are used for the positive effects of deep touch pressure. This pressure signals a calming, organizing effect in the body and often results in improved sleep and overall improved behavioral symptoms, due to the effects of serotonin. This calming effect also frequently improves symptoms of sensory overload or sensory sensitivity experienced by people with SPD. Basically, the serotonin emitted through weighted blanket use helps more effectively regulate the signals entering and exiting the nervous system. A 2013 study found that young adults with ASD and sensory processing difficulties experienced decreased sensory over-stimulation when they used a weighted blanket regularly. The participants in the study also indicated a feeling of calmness and security while using their weighted blanket.
If you are looking for additional sensory products for adults, click here.
As you consider buying a weighted blanket, you may want to consider these items to ensure you get a high-quality product that is right for you or your loved one:
When describing the construction of a weighted blanket, it’s best to relate it to a down-filled comforter in that the design of each ‘box’ or compartment contains a weighted material, much like the down comforter would contain feathers. The box-compartment or channel compartment construction allows for the weighted material, often poly pellets or glass beads, to be evenly distributed throughout the blanket so that, when draped over the body, the weight is then distributed evenly over the body.
Just like you would put your down comforter inside of a fabric shell, many weighted blankets offer a machine washable outer layer, or duvet cover, that can be customized by fabric texture, color, or pattern.
When selecting your weighted blanket, first calculate the total weight based on your own body weight. A general guideline when deciding on your blanket’s weight factor is to multiply your body weight by 10% and add 1-2 lbs. depending on preference. So a 150 lb. adult would select a 15 lb. weighted blanket on the low end and a 17 lb. blanket on the high end. A 180lb. adult would be looking the range of 18 to 20-pound blankets. Here is a sizing chart to help:
Weighted blankets can be draped on the shoulders of the adult user, or placed on top of his body when lying down. There is no right or wrong time to use a weighted blanket -- overnight while sleeping, or during the day while seated or at rest. The individual applications of weighted blankets are specific to what, when, and how the user deems necessary to benefit from the calming proprioceptive input.
No matter what you decide for a weight factor, fabric preference, or wearing scenario, be mindful of any changes you may notice as your body adjusts. Monitor your mood, levels of anxiety, physiological responses like breathing rate or heart rate, and/or sleep patterns.
So as you've learned now, adults can use weighted blankets as a sleep aid as well as to reduce anxiety. These are two very important things in our highly connected, fast-paced world.
If you have any questions or comments about weighted blankets for adults, please let us know in the comments!
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