What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets, also called gravity blankets, are tools used in Sensory Integration Therapy to alleviate anxiety. Weighted blankets use layers of breathable fabric in their construction, with some filling material to increase their weight. Commonly used fillings include plastic poly pellets and micro glass beads.
Regular Uses of weighted blankets
Weighted blankets are popular among people with anxiety disorders. They also find use in helping overstimulated nervous systems calm down. The benefits of gravity blankets usually target people with the following conditions:
– Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
– Chronic Pain
The working principle behind the efficacy of weighted blankets is deep pressure stimulation. When a person uses a weighted blanket, they experience a gentle pressure all over their body that works to replicate human contact like an embrace or a hug.
When we experience anxiety, our “fight or flight” system, also known as the sympathetic system, overworks itself to protect us from any nearby dangers. This causes our heartbeat and pulse to quicken, our bodies to tense up, blood vessels to constrict, or body hair to stand up. We may also feel other symptoms of anxiety.
If we get our bodies to relax, and our heart rate to slow down, most of the other symptoms fade as well. Weighted blankets use deep pressure stimulation to activate the “rest and recover” part of our nervous systems. This is also known as the parasympathetic nervous system, and it works to calm us down by reducing our heart rate and shivering, etc.
People experiencing overstimulation or anxiousness can benefit from this external influence.
Pregnancy and Sleep
If you or someone you know has been pregnant for a few months, you are probably all too familiar with all of the not-so-pretty parts of pregnancy. Indeed, the journey to birthing a human being is beautiful and poetic, but it is also challenging and sometimes gross.
As important as sleep is for pregnant women (you could even say it is twice as important!), most pregnant women find it very difficult as they progress into their terms. It is not something that becomes a problem immediately when someone gets pregnant. The earlier months allow for comfortable sleeping because of the increased progesterone in the body.
When pregnancy approaches the second and third trimesters, managing a night of good quality sleep becomes a challenge. Several things about later trimesters cause this, including the apparent increase in the baby’s size, which makes it increasingly difficult to find comfortable sleeping positions.
Women in the later parts of their pregnancy might also be more sensitive to external factors like temperature that may disrupt their sleep quality.
In a survey undertaken in 2011 (see here for details) to study sleep patterns in late pregnancies, researchers found that 67% of the women surveyed associated difficulty sleeping with discomfort due to pregnancy.
Other than the struggle of finding a comfortable sleeping position, pregnancy also raises a few other issues that could hinder getting a good night’s sleep. These include, but are not limited to:
– The increased necessity to go to the toilet (More unpredictable bathroom breaks)
– Shortness of breath
– Cramps and body aches
– Stress and anxiety
Some of these are easier to treat than others.
Pregnant women need to make more frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate as their bladders experience increased pressure due to the expanding uterus. This is a normal part of pregnancy and cannot be aided, as pregnant women need to consume as much fluid as possible for the healthy growth of their unborn baby.
Another common problem faced by women during late trimesters is acid indigestion or heartburn. Acid reflux is triggered by lying down on your back or sometimes, even lying down sideways, and is a very uncomfortable sensation. Being caused by lying down makes it a significant contributor to the disruption of sleep quality.
When you are pregnant, your body goes through many significant changes. This includes increased hormone levels that cause shortness of breath and physical pains, and cramping. Stress and anxiety are also prevalent parts of a pregnancy because the expecting mother has to worry about protecting two lives instead of just one.
Fortunately, some methods and products exist to aid in improving sleep quality during the later trimesters of pregnancy.
For problems like needing to use the bathroom and sleeping positions, controlling fluid intake, and using body pillows might help do the trick. Most women will need to go by trial and error to find what sleeping position or pillow alignment works best for them.
Massages can be an excellent way to help alleviate stress and cramps. As mentioned previously in this article, weighted blankets actually work to replicate the effects of a massage by applying gentle pressure over the body. Therefore, weighted blankets are a potential solution to backaches and stress that may be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Weighted Blankets and Pregnancy
Deep Pressure Stimulation for Stress and Anxiety
Weighted blankets use deep touch pressure therapy (DTP), or deep pressure stimulation therapy, to provide the tactile sensation of a warm hug or embrace. Deep touch therapy also promotes the release of the body’s “happy hormone,” serotonin. This, in turn, causes a soothing effect and helps the user feel calmer and, hopefully, happier.
One of the many changes your body goes through during pregnancy is swelling. Yep, swelling- and that too, in everything. During pregnancy, your body produces 50%more blood and bodily fluids than it would when not pregnant. This is more prevalent after the fifth month and carries on until the end of the third trimester. Swollen arms, legs, elbows- your body parts swelling up are an expected change. However, expected does not mean it is a comfortable change.
It doesn’t sound terrific, but it is not entirely hopeless. Weighted blankets can help reduce pregnancy swelling by a significant amount. Weighted blankets’ pressure, with regular exposure, helps reduce inflammation and swelling on the feet, legs, and hands.
As if weighted blankets on their own weren’t enough, there also exist variations of weighted blankets for hot sleepers that provide additional comforting features. One such variant is cooling weighted blankets, designed to give the user a cooling sensation during use.
Pregnant women tend to get hot during sleep quickly and may experience sweating. Cooling weighted blankets use carefully selected moisture-wicking materials in their construction to prevent sweating and help regulate temperature during sleep.
Cooling weighted blankets use breathable and cooling fabrics like bamboo. Some weighted cooling blankets also use cotton as their primary constituent material, but cotton can absorb moisture and get hot. So, be careful to read material and working details when you purchase a weighted cooling blanket or make sure to go for one that has been tried and tested by several users.
Weighted blankets provide solutions to some of the most ubiquitous pregnancy problems with absolutely no toxic side effects. They act as a drug-free solution to stress, nausea, and sleep deprivation.
However, it is essential to note that weighted blankets are not a replacement for the necessary medications you may require during your pregnancy. They are an additional solution with therapeutic effects for general feelings of discomfort due to stress and pain and improve sleep quality during pregnancy.
Who should avoid using weighted blankets
Weighted blankets, while excellent tools, may not be suitable for some users. The risks involved with the use of weighted blankets are minimal, but it is always better to be careful. Do not use a weighted blanket if you:
– Suffer from sleep apnea
– Suffer from asthma
– Are diabetic
– Are claustrophobic
– Have very fragile skin
People dealing with respiratory disorders like asthma and sleep apnea should avoid the use of a weighted blanket. This is because the weighted blanket’s pressure onto their chest might inhibit their breathing and cause problems.
Similarly, people with diabetes and people with circulatory problems should avoid putting themselves in a situation that could further restrict their blood flow. The pressure applied by weighted blankets might not be suitable for such people.
Claustrophobic people might find that the tight “embrace” like feeling experienced by most people during a weighted blanket is triggering.
People with skin susceptible to irritation or people with open wounds should avoid weighted blankets as well.
It is essential that the user of a weighted blanket is able to get out of it on their own without help. Therefore, weighted blankets are not suitable for use by older adults and very young children, or people that may feel too weak to get out of them on their own.
Points to remember when you purchase a weighted blanket
The weighted blanket you use must improve your overall mood and sleep quality and not disturb it. For this reason, choosing the right weight and material for the blanket is very important.
Make sure that the total weight of your weighted blanket never exceeds 10%-15% of your body-weight.
When looking for a weighted blanket to purchase, take a look at the fabric and material used in construction and filling to make sure you get the desired effects during use. For example, if you are a hot sleeper, avoid weighted blankets made of materials that trap heat. Instead, look for weighted blankets that boast the keyword “cooling” and are made of moisture-wicking fabric.
The concluding point is that if you are, or someone you know is, pregnant and suffering from pregnancy-related discomfort during sleep, or in general, then a weighted blanket might be the solution to your/their problems.
Weighted blankets help soothe stress and anxiety using the same methodology used in professional massage therapy (deep pressure stimulation). They also provide temperature regulation depending on the constituent material and its intended purpose.
The gentle pressure from a weighted blanket can help soothe cramps and aches experienced during pregnancy (or outside of pregnancy). Also, regular use of weighted blankets can help reduce the swelling of body parts experienced during pregnancy.
It is a good idea to consult your gynaecologist before you start using anything to help with the effects of pregnancy.