Bring out the research nerd in me once again. This question caught my attention. Psychiatrists, therapists and even dentists have been known to use weighted blankets with their patients. So, I delved into peer-reviewed articles and research to see what I could learn
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?
…or in this case Insomnia or Depression/Anxiety? Regardless, whatever your mental health goals are, sleep plays a key role.
Anne Kingston of Universite Laval reported 40% of Canadians are affected by sleep disorders, which lead to “depression, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, accidents, and a host of other problems”.1 Everyone knows that a good night’s rest is essential to overall health and quality of daily living. Yet, so many miss the mark where getting a good sleep is concerned. Why is this? But perhaps more concerning is the effects on our health, as Anne Kingston noted.
With over 23% of Canadians reported experiencing HIGH stress on a daily basis, and 40% of Canadians affected by sleep disorders, it’s no wonder that January 2019 the Canadian Association for Mental Health stated adults are reporting increases in mental health problems.
Working Towards Mental Health
What about people with mental illness? Living with a predisposition to or diagnosis in any class of mental illness is already a struggle. For persons living with anxiety, mood, schizophrenia & psychotic, dementia or eating disorders, they know all too well how sleep impacts their overall health.
What is the Research Saying?
I read several research articles on various mental illness to determine what, if any, research has been done on the benefits for persons living with mental illness.
Weighted blankets have been used by psychiatrists and occupational therapists for decades to reduce anxiety in patients with psychosis, paranoia and PTSD.1 Further studies surrounding person living with anxiety, depression, ADHD and PTSD have concluded 60-80% of participants experienced calming effects and comfort with the use of weighted blankets.
In 2008, Mullen, B et al clinical trial on the effectiveness of weighted blankets reported data where 63% of users experienced lower anxiety level after use and that 78% of users preferred using the blanket as a calming modality.
Dentists Use Weighted Blankets for Patients:
Even the dental community has explored the use of weighted blankets with patients exhibiting anxiety in the dental environment and found DPT associated with weighted blankets has positive effects. In their study, they reported “Mood shift: Due to the gentle pressure of weighted blankets, the release of serotonin becomes easier.”
Adults During an Inpatient Mental Health Hospitalization
In July 2013 the Occupational Therapy in Mental Health journal published an research article where patient self-ratings indicated 60% had a significant reduction in anxiety using the WB.
The Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health reported:
Weighted blankets, vests, and lap pads are examples of devices in which weight is used as a therapeutic intervention (Walker & McCormack, 2002). These devices have been reported as helpful when used preventively or during crisis states with children, adolescents, adults, and elderly individuals (Champagne, 2004; Stromberg et al., 2004). Weighted items offer the sensation of physical holding and containment, and may facilitate self- organization when an individual’s capacities are tenuous. For example, one woman with a history of self-mutilation described a weighted vest as a “bullet-proof vest” in which “nobody can hurt me.” Instead of her behaviour escalating to the point at which S/R would have been used, the woman now asks for her vest and finds the pressure across her back and chest helps her “stay in control” (Stromberg et al., 2004). Weighted items should be heavy enough to be effective, as deter- mined by the individual, yet light enough to be removed at will. As with all of the interventions described in this article, the indi- viduals’ preferences and responses should be considered in determin- ing duration of use.
Eileen Parker and Cara Koscinski book The Weighted Blanket Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Weighted Blankets indicates improved ability to fall and stay asleep for person with dementia.
In another research where persons with late-stage dementia used weighted blankets, 63% reported lower anxiety after use and 78% reported that the weighted blanket had a calming effect.
In 2015, Ackerly, R., Badre , G. and Olausson, H conducted extensive research on the effectiveness of weighted blankets on insomnia. Participants reported improved sleep, ability to settle down, and feel refreshed. The study concluded that participants using weighted blanket had calmer nights sleep compared to participants in the control group. I will share more research finding on insomnia in future posts, as I feel it is a topic all on its own. I wanted to share this one finding because, as discussed, sleep quality effects overall mental health.
It’s nice to see that since 2000 when I first researched weighted blankets, that more research has been completed. I believe that with the mainstreaming that is currently happening in the market place, more studies will be conducted.
Overall, thought, I believe that weighted blankets are worth a try. They are a non pharmaceutical way that can potentially assist people with their symptoms. The statistics are promising, and with reports not indicating adverse effects, it is worth trying. Personally, my sleep has been better using my weighted blanket. I do not suggest anyone use weighted blankets instead of their prescribed medications. That is something to be discussed with your physician. However, adding a weighted blanket to your routine has a good statistical potential to help.
- Journal Of Psychosocial Nursing And Mental Health Services [J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv] 2004 Sep; Vol. 42 (9), pp. 34-44.
- http://K Winters, K Pearson, L Frattare – 2014 – soundideas.pugetsound.edu