Weighted blankets can lead to more melatonin, the sleep hormone

Weighted blankets can lead to more melatonin, the sleep hormone


There is a blanket with weights increased in popularity in recent years, with manufacturers and users touting its benefits, including helping with sleep problems and anxiety. A recent study points to a mechanism that may explain why weighted blankets help some people sleep better.

Using a weighted blanket can lead to more melatonin — a a hormone that promotes sleep produced by the brain — released, Research reveals. Melatonin reduces alertness and makes sleep more pleasant. During the day, light entering the eyes sends a signal to the brain’s “master circadian clock”—a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus—which then blocks melatonin production in the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ in the brain. After the sun goes down, the suprachiasmatic nucleus releases its control over the pineal gland, allowing melatonin to set the stage for the body to sleep. The internal body temperature drops and drowsiness occurs.

“I’ve met many pediatricians and occupational therapists who have told me about the magical effects of weighted blankets, but we don’t know if it’s a placebo or something else,” said the study’s author. Christian Benedict, associate professor of pharmacology at Uppsala University in Sweden. “That was one of the reasons I decided to do this study.”

In the study, 26 young men and women without sleep problems or other medical conditions were asked to sleep in a laboratory with a weighted blanket one night and a light blanket the other night. None of the participants had a history of using weighted blankets. Weighted and light blankets corresponded to 12.2 percent and 2.4 percent of each person’s body weight, respectively.

The researchers took saliva samples every 20 minutes between 10pm and 11pm to measure changes in hormone levels. On average, the increase in melatonin was 32 percent higher on the night when participants slept with a weighted blanket.

“Bodily sensations, including gentle pressure on the skin, can activate regions of the brain that can affect melatonin release,” Benedict said. “We believe a similar mechanism is responsible for the observed increase in melatonin with weighted blanket use.”

Weighted blankets have sewn-in weights such as metal chains or glass beads, along with traditional padding, for even, deep pressure on the body. Occupational therapists In the 1990s, they discovered that vests and weighted blankets have a calming effect on children and adolescents with developmental and sensory disorders. They were later used in adults mental health settings as a humane alternative to restraint and isolation, which are known to cause physical and psychological harm to patients.

The concept of deep pressure stimulation goes back even further, and was most famously researched by an American scientist in the 1980s Temple Grandinwho has autism and designed a Hug Machine as a way to release his anxiety. It worked by gently squeezing her with padded boards. Other examples include swaddles for babies and anxiety vests for dogs, both of which are used in a way similar to hugs to induce calmness.

Applying light pressure to large parts of the body activates the autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate, digestion, breathing rate and other functions. Especially, deep pressure stimulation it is associated with decreased sympathetic arousal, or the fight-or-flight response, and increased parasympathetic arousal, or the rest-and-digest response.

Research has shown that deep pressure stimulation from a weighted blanket can improve sleep. In 2020 Håkan Olaussonneuroscientist from Linköping University in Sweden, and his colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial trial of 120 patients with psychiatric disorders, giving them a weighted blanket every night for two weeks. Patients reported less severe insomnia, reduced daytime fatigue, and better sleep maintenance at night when they slept with a weighted blanket versus a light blanket.

And in 2015 study tested weighted blankets on 33 people with chronic insomnia, reporting that they slept longer, settled more easily, and felt fresher in the morning. i.a study on two children with autism spectrum disorders showed improved sleep quality with weighted blankets.

“Weighted blanket use has increased dramatically in recent years, but most studies have limited sample sizes,” he said. Koscinski’s wayoccupational therapist and co-author of the book “Weighted Blanket Guide.” “We can’t draw any big conclusions,” she said of the latest study, but the observed increase in melatonin “provides another piece of the puzzle.”

“This is a very interesting study, but it would be nice to see it replicated in another cohort because it’s not an obvious thing that melatonin should increase with a weighted blanket,” Olausson said.

Benedict supported the need for larger trials, including, he said, “investigating whether the observed effects of weighted blankets on melatonin are sustained over longer periods.”

Although the study did see an increase in melatonin, it did not see any difference in participants’ sleep duration or sleepiness with weighted blanket use. The researchers also measured oxytocin, a hormone released in response to physical touch known to induce feelings of comfort and calmness, but did not see an increase for the weighted blanket condition.

Users, like Aimee Walker Baker, say weighted blankets have helped with their health problems.

“I feel like I’m in a safety cocoon,” said Baker, 50, of Bay Minette, Alabama, who sleeps with a weighted blanket every night. She suffered serious injuries in a car accident in 2016, with nightmares as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. “It took me a few nights to get used to it [the weight], but when I did, I was actually asleep. Like, the first time in over a year! I felt like a victory,” she said.

DeAndra Chapman, 38, of Stockton, Ala., received a weighted blanket from her husband as a gift to relieve her anxiety and restlessness during the night. “The weighted blanket helps me sleep because it’s like a constant hug,” she said. “I use my blanket whenever I sleep, including naps. He even goes on vacation with me.”

Keri Leach, 55, of Westerville, Ohio, uses her weighted blanket for insomnia. “My problem was waking up at night and not being able to go back to sleep, and this helped,” she said. “It’s harder to use in the summer because it can get really hot.”

In addition to people with sleep disorders, says Koscinski, weighted blankets are also used by those with autism, anxiety, arthritis, chronic pain and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She adds that they can be very good for some people and not at all for others. A general rule of thumb is to choose a blanket that weighs less than 10 percent of your body weight, and they should never be used on people who can’t remove the blanket themselves, such as infants, says Koscinski.

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