what is the science behind weighted blankets and how do they reduce anxiety?



what is the science behind weighted blankets and how do they reduce anxiety?

In: Other

Part of it has to do with our sensory system (hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling) our bodies are constantly getting input from those senses. For each of our senses there are inputs that make them excited or calmed. For our sense of feeling, deep pressure and compression are calming inputs while light touch can be exciting input.

So a heavy blanket will give your body an input of deep pressure and compression making your brain feel calmer. It’s another reason humans hug to comfort each other, it provides pressure and compression making the person being hugged feel calmer.

It’s difficult to say for sure; there aren’t many studies on weighted blankets, and the ones there are don’t draw the kinds of conclusions you’re looking for. Most are just “Do the blankets help” rather than “Why do the blankets help”.

It is commonly recognized a weighted blanket can calm people down, [but the only studies I’ve found relate to specific groups](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32204779/). These include people with sensory issues or anxiety, as you’ve mentioned.

In terms of the mechanism, scientists are throwing some theories at the wall and seeing what sticks. Maybe the blanket reminds us of being a baby, tightly bundled and safe. Maybe the blanket restricts movement, forcing people who would otherwise toss and turn to calm down. Maybe it’s all in our heads, and we just relax because weighted blankets are “supposed” to relax us. Maybe it’s just cause it feels like a hug. Until there are more studies, we can’t know for sure.

Hugs increase happy chemicals in the brain. Weighted blankets feel like a hug. Even pressure keeps people grounded, and makes them feel safe. Also you move around less at night under weight, so you fall asleep faster. (For people who toss and turn and can’t fall asleep quickly due to their brain getting alertness jolts every time they turn, less effective for non-anxious people.)

Something to do with the vagus nerve that is responsible for the somatic sensations of having your ‘heart in your mouth’, you ‘stomach dropping’, feeling like your ‘insides are jelly’, and ‘butterflies in your stomach’. A lot of people describe existential anxiety as a mind and body experience akin to ‘floating/swinging through space’. A lot of existential anxiety tends to be pushed into people’s subconscious so they might experience it in their unconscious state of dreaming where we have less control over our thoughts and cognitions. I’m not sure if it’s always trauma related, but it seems to work a lot like trauma and how we see that play itself out in PTSD and PTSD related nightmares and/or dreams. A weighted blanket would aid in regaining that ‘solid’ feeling of gravity ‘holding you down’ and ‘grounding’ you. I have read that bodily grounding mental exercises are used a lot by those experiencing the onset of an anxiety attack.

I think ultimately it makes you feel more safely ensconced in a ‘protective cocoon’, which Anthony Giddens describes in *Self Identity and Modernity* as a sense of ‘ontological security’ (as opposed to ontological *in*security defined by R.D. Laing in *The Divided Self*). I suppose that we carry with us a physical, mental, and emotional memory of being in the womb that is somewhat replicated by the feeling of a weighted blanket.

**Please read [rule 3](https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/wiki/detailed_rules#wiki_rule_3.3A_top-level_comments_must_be_written_explanations) before posting, that means no anecdotes!**

I’m really glad people are getting cool gifts for Christmas (Merry Christmas, by the way), including weighted blankets… but this isn’t the appropriate place to share that story.

The mods don’t like doing mod work like removing rule breaking comments and banning people, so if you could chip in to help us out by not making those comments so we can go back to being lazy on Christmas that’d be great. Thank you.

Edit: Sorry guys, tired of banning people and deleting rule breaking comments on Christmas. Thread locked now.

Finally a question for an Occupational Therapist! We are the experts on weighted blankets and pediatric OTs have been using them for many many years before they suddenly became trendy. Weight (a blanket, a compression shirt, a hug, a dog sitting on your lap/chest, carrying heavy books) all give your body proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive input basically tells your body where you are in space. When someone has a lot of proprioceptive input it can be calming to ones nervous system as your body “knows” where it is.

There is actually a TON of research on weight but it’s mostly in OT journals 😉

Occupational Therapy Student here! Weighted blankets help relieve anxiety by providing “input” for your body to recognize through your proprioceptive system. This system tells your brain where your body is in space. If you have the weighted blanket across ur legs for example, you have more signals (due to the pressure from the blanket) carrying that sensation to your brain. It’s provides a calming sensation for those who need more of this system stimulated to feel comfortable. They should be 8-10% of your body weight. I’ve seen it done wonders. I even use one. Highly recommend.

Am I the only one who finds weighted blankets awful? Anything that restricts movement makes me feel trapped and the anxiety gets worse, not better. I can’t even sleep with my blankets tucked in.

According to [this 2017 blog post by a practicing psychiatrist,](https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/05/book-review-surfing-uncertainty/) it’s actually a consequence of the differences in basic moment to moment subconscious processing between neurotypical people and others.

According to current theories, the evolutionarily older parts of the brain operates on constant comparison of incoming actual sensory data and a series of complicated guesses about how the next couple seconds of sensory data *should* look. If there’s a couple tiny differences between the two, no harm no foul, but if there’s a big change between your expectation and reality it’s an unexpected surprise (duh). This is obviously useful for judging when to sit back and relax, when to be wary and agitated and when to activate adrenaline and run away from a predator.

This applies to all senses, including the somatosensory-proprioceptive complex. Neuroatypical people, such as autism sufferers, have variances in this system. Some have unusually high tolerances for subconsciously ignoring reality (and granting unusual credence to your own subconscious theories, such as in schizophrenia) and some have unusually low tolerances for small differences between subconscious expectations and reality.

Tags on clothing, light bedsheets and open and flowing clothes all shift slightly from individual movements and air currents, which in an individual with low tolerances are perceived by the subconscious the same way as a twig cracking on an empty path behind you – that is to say: **”All Hands On Deck, Battlestations! This Is A Red Alert!”**.
Their subconscious is just surprised all the time by ordinary objects. Almost all individuals probably learn to live with it, but I’m not familiar with the relevant literature to say any further.

**So, why do they like heavy blankets?**
When their hindbrain predicts that every square millimeter of the fabric will stay perfectly motionless and not change in any way, reality obeys. Therefore there is no danger present and the part of their brain vital for escaping unexpected things such as predators can finally relax.