For the nearly 50 per cent of Canadians who report having trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, there’s virtually nothing they won’t try. Over-the-counter medications, sleep apps and soporific drinks are booming — a NASDAQ report estimates that the sleep aid market will reach US$80 billion by 2020 — but these come with either a lot of false claims or the possibility of addiction.
Now there’s a new product on the market that users swear by, and one that medical evidence can actually back up: weighted blankets.
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“If you’re stressed or you have bad sleep habits, you’ll have trouble falling asleep and will likely have anxiety around bedtime,” says Evelyne Martello, a sleep clinic nurse at the CIUSS du Nord-de-l’Ile-de-Montreal in Quebec. “A weighted blanket will help to quiet down your neurotransmitters and help you feel more secure, thus improving your sleep.”
Martello says that weighted blankets are often used to help children who are on the autism spectrum, and may suffer from neurological, medical or behavioural issues, to help comfort them and allow them to fall asleep faster.
One small study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health found that in 32 adults who slept with a 30-pound blanket, 62 per cent reported lower anxiety and 78 per cent said it was calming.
Research has shown that weighted blankets, which as their name suggests are heavy (roughly 10 per cent of a person’s body weight) but with the weight evenly distributed throughout, mimic deep pressure touch stimulation, which is known to have a calming and soothing effect.
“Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals or swaddling,” Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University and autism spokesperson, wrote in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. “Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.”
The benefits don’t end there, either. Weighted blankets have been compared to a hug, whose feelings of warmth and security are known to release the oxytocin hormone that lowers blood pressure, slows the heart and induces a feeling of relaxation. The pressure from the blanket can also release the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which are responsible for de-stressing and sleeping, respectively.
While there are a number of weighted blankets on the market — the American-based Gravity Blanket crowdfunded $150,000 on the first day of its campaign, in case there was any question that these items were in demand — enterprising sleep sufferers can also make one at home.
“Many years ago, we used Catalogne blankets and it was like a cotton weighted quilt, and it worked. It doesn’t have to be a special blanket — as long as it’s evenly-weighted and heavy enough,” Martello says. “It can definitely help.”
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