By Aimee Sterk, LLMSW, MATP Staff
I have a long history of battling insomnia. Lately, I have been having even more problems sleeping following a series of life traumas and increased anxiety. My therapist suggested trying a weighted blanket. I had previously heard of weighted blankets as calming options for people on the Autism Spectrum. I never knew they have a variety of other uses.
According to an article in Psychology Today,
“Weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, [and feeling out of sorts],” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. These special blankets are filled with weighted pellets, which are sewn into compartments to keep them evenly distributed. Weighted blankets are also sometimes marketed for general use as an aid to sleep and relaxation.
“These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer.
What a revelation! After posting on Facebook, to friends inside and outside the disability community, looking for local resources to try a weighted blanket, several friends chimed in that they too thought these blankets would be helpful for them. Some even said they were using one without realizing it—heavy comforters were their preference all year. One friend, who runs an Autism Center, connected me with some online options for buying weighted blankets and making your own. Another connected me with Christie DePrekel at Peaceful Product . These chance connections via social media have changed my life!
Christie of Peaceful Product is local and offered me several weights of blankets to try as I was hesitant to commit to the investment without knowing if the blankets would help me—though I had a feeling they would. I stopped by the same day to pick up the sample blankets. I later learned she also makes hospital-grade weighted blankets for use in doctors offices and dentists.
I tried a 15 pound and a 10 pound fleece blanket and found I far preferred the heavier variety—and that my sleep and anxiety were much improved. I slept soundly (for me) the night before I had to give a speech to a nationwide audience—which normally would not be how I’d sleep before such a big event. I have found I also like sitting on the couch with the calming weight on me.
Christie mentioned that some members of her family have sensory processing disabilities, which is why she started making the blankets herself—looking to make quality items to meet their needs. Talking to her more about sensory processing, I realized that I too am sensitive to sound, pressure, smell, sight, and touch. Since I was a child, I remember self-soothing by rolling my hands back and forth over a favorite blanket. I also achieve great peace when watching repetitive things like sprinklers or machines at work. I have met others friends who have the same type of soothing response. I also have created my own type of squeeze machine having my partner hug me hard and/or lay on top of me while I’m on the floor, comforted by the intense pressure (until it’s hard to breathe). I wonder if it is all related.
Christie has seen weighted blankets help people with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Anxiety, PTSD, Insomnia, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Restless Leg Syndrome.
After deciding I definitely wanted my own weighted blanket, I met Christie at a fabric store and picked out some microplush fabric to cover my blanket. You should have seen me at the store with my eyes closed plunging my hands into the bolts of fabric to test their softness and soothing qualities. I then specified the size and weight I wanted, and one week later, my blanket was ready.
I now sleep with it every night. The pressure is comforting on a primal level. I have trouble with night sweats, so the lightweight microplush has been helpful (the sample blankets were a thick fleece). If the weight didn’t affect the heat of the blanket at all, I would have gotten even heavier of a blanket. I joked with Christie that I’d like one half-filled with ice cubes. We’ll see what she comes up with next.
The formula commonly used to choose the weight of the blanket is 10% of the body weight plus 1 or 2 pounds for children. In older teens and adults this formula can be quite heavy so trying different weights like I did might be your best option. I found that in my arms a 10 pound blanket felt very very heavy. But, once that weight was spread out over me, I thought it was way too light.
Have you tried a weighted blanket or have you been doing your own version of weighted-blanket-sleeping without even realizing that is what you were creating on your own?
What other sleep, anxiety, or sensory processing solutions work for you?
Do you think something like this might work for you or someone you know?Tweet
This is very interesting. I came across an article on weighted blankets while browsing a news feed on the internet, and it resonated with me because I love sleeping under a heap of quilts (which end up being quite heavy) in winter.
I have suffered from insomnia since around the age of 50 (probably hereditary, because my mother also suffered from severe insomnia in her later years). I have noticed that I have less trouble sleeping in cold weather, and have been thinking this is due to the cold. It now occurs to me that perhaps it is the weight of the multiple quilts that is actually providing the benefit. I dislike sleeping with A/C and only use it when the heat is extreme, so now I am wondering if the increase in severity of my insomnia in warmer weather might not be due directly to the heat, but indirectly to the lack of weight on me as I shed the heavy quilts in summer.
I am considering buying an adult-size weighted blanket to see what result I get from it, but I have a question – how do you accommodate the use of a weighted blanket in summer weather? Doesn’t it end up retaining a lot of heat, which would end up making it too hot to sleep under even if it addresses the insomnia issue?
Thanks for any info you can provide.
I talked with the woman who made my blanket about summers–both her teenage children use the blankets. She said they crank up their a/c at night. I am not sure if that is going to work with me as I let our house get quite cold at night in the winter and still wake up pretty warm. I’m looking into other fill material that adds weight but might be less heat absorbing–maybe some sort of metal beads but haven’t really explored it much. If you live in West Michigan I would encourage you to try a weighted blanket before you buy one but maybe you already have just by using lots of blankets. Good luck in your quest–my insomnia definitely is getting worse as I age but I understand from my OBGYN hormone specialist that that is quite common for women.
Thanks for your reply, Aimee. It’s been bitter cold here in Chicago lately, but I don’t mind because I’m sleeping well under all those quilts! I’ll share another trick that helps with insomia sometimes – books on DVD. I get them at the local library and play them when I get into bed. It’s like going back to childhood and having someone read you to sleep. If I’ve chosen right, I’ll have picked a book that is just interesting enough that I don’t get bored with it & stay awake thinking how dull the book is, but not so exciting that I intentionally stay awake to find out what happens next. Not an easy call, LOL, but once you’ve tried a few, you get an idea of what genre will work for you. It’s better than TV, which puts out a type of light that actually makes your system think it’s daytime, and it avoids the ‘I have to wake up to turn the reading light out and put the book away’ issue of actually reading a book. The only problem is figuring out where you zonked out, so you know where to start the story for the next night. ^ _ ^
I saw an on-line vendor that makes weighted blankets with tiny glass beads (as opposed to plastic or metal), and I’m thinking I’ll go with that, and we’ll see what happens over the summer. If it’s uncomfortable for me, I’ll donate the blanket where it’s needed.
Oh! Do let me know about the glass beads–that sounds very promising. We have a lot in common! I use the stitcher app on my phone to listen to podcasts to fall asleep to. Very much like listening to stories. I too sometimes have to go back and re-listen but that is ok.