Do Weighted Blankets Work for Adults?

by Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

Do Weighted Blankets Work for Adults?

If you read our article on Weighted Blanket Therapy, you won’t be surprised to hear that the benefits of weighted blankets apply to children and adults alike, of many different diagnoses. We talk overwhelmingly about supporting children with ADHD, autism, sensory processing dysfunction, emotional regulation difficulties, and psychiatric diagnoses, but when these children grow up to be teenagers and adults, they likely continue to need therapeutic supports. Weighted blanket therapy supports self-regulation in children and adults alike.


What is Weighted Blanket Therapy?

Weighted blankets are similar to weighted vests in that they offer proprioceptive or deep touch pressure (DTP) 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.  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!


Researching Weighted Blankets for Adults

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%). 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, 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 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.


How do Weighted Blankets Work?

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 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 washable outer layer 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.


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. How have they changed? We’d love to know how weighted blankets work for you!







Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP
Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

Author

Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Practitioner with over 15 years of pediatric experience. She specializes in educationally-relevant interventions with a focus on sensory integration and assistive technology supports to learning. Alescia strives to help children by fostering a love of learning and supports families with her parent-friendly, informative blog posts. Alescia founded Adapt & Learn, LLC on the mission that children of all abilities can play, learn, adapt, and develop with the right therapeutic, family, and educational supports. You can get more information on Alescia and her practice at www.adaptandlearn.com


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