There’s a lot to love about pulling back the comforter and calling it a day. But what if it could be even better? Swapping out your usual blanket for a weighted one could help with insomnia, lower your stress response, and boost your mood.
What a weighted blanket does for the body
Modern conveniences seem like they make life easier. But they also set the expectation we should be “on” all the time. And that’s stressful.
The reason a weighted blanket can help? It has to do with your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS takes care of involuntary body processes, like digestion, breathing, heart rate, and more. It’s made up of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relax).
Research says deep pressure on the body changes your autonomic nervous system response. That nice feeling of pressure turns down your fight or flight center, so the adrenal glands can produce fewer stress hormones (adrenaline, epinephrine, and cortisol). Meanwhile, the hug-like feeling of the blanket dials up the parasympathetic nervous system response, which promotes relaxation and rest.
Help for cortisol & progesterone
Because it’s reducing your stress response and keeping you calm, using a weighted blanket consistently may help manage stress hormones. Why are stress hormone levels so important to overall health?
Stress hormones are vital to survival. In truly dangerous situations, they equip the body with the tools it needs to cope. They make glucose available for cells to use and temporarily divert resources away from noncritical functions toward critical ones. But when our bodies interpret everyday life as stressful, we end up with chronically elevated stress hormones. This is harmful. When we consistently experience fight or flight mode, our bodies produce frequent bursts of epinephrine. Too much epinephrine damages blood vessels and causes problems with blood pressure.
That chronic stress then leads to high cortisol levels. High cortisol depletes progesterone, a sex hormone critical to fertility, mood, periods, manageable PMS, quality sleep, and keeping estrogen in balance. Cortisol also affects how well your body converts inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into active T3, which can leave you with symptoms of hypothyroidism. As your metabolism lowers from thyroid hormone reduction, cortisol offers up a double-whammy. It makes you feel hungrier, affects blood glucose, and tells the body to store more calories as fat, especially around the abdomen.
Boosting love and happy hormones
But reducing stress hormones isn’t all a weighted blanket can do. According to Deborah Serani, Psy.D., in Psychology Today, the benefits of touch on the body are incredible. And the pressure from weighted blankets simulates the same feeling. Just like massage, a weighted blanket increases production of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is secreted from the posterior pituitary gland. It’s often associated with love and bonding. But it also reduces stress and plays a part in sexual health and reproduction. Oxytocin helps with uterine contractions during childbirth. It’s also important for breastfeeding, as it helps milk already in the breast flow more easily for the baby. Because of its role in pain relief, naturally boosting oxytocin with a weighted blanket can also be useful for PMS and premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD).
But this simple way to raise oxytocin is just as important in perimenopause and menopause. Here’s why: estrogen promotes production of oxytocin. In menopause, estrogen levels are low. Low estrogen means your body isn’t making the same amount of oxytocin as you’re used to. In fact, some experts say diminished oxytocin may even be partly responsible for menopause symptoms.
Thanks again to that deep pressure stimulation, cozying up under a weighted blanket may also make your body produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone called the “happy chemical.” Not having enough serotonin can lead to a depressed mood and tension.
Better sleep + insomnia relief
Low serotonin can also be a key player in insomnia. Serotonin helps trigger sleep and is needed for REM, or rapid eye movement sleep. (REM gives your body a chance to dream, process, and retain memories.)
Serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, which means your body needs it to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that’s made in the pineal gland. It helps you feel calm and regulates your internal body clock, so you’re ready to fall asleep at night. It also supports fertility, migraine management, and teeth and bone health.
If you have insomnia, using a weighted blanked to boost serotonin (and therefore melatonin!) can help you get the shut-eye you need. It’s a great idea to tune into ways to boost these hormones as you age. Melatonin production naturally drops as our biological clocks tick.
Tried, tested and approved
We tried a weighted blanket, and we love it. Even though it only weighs 15 pounds, here’s a warning: it’s heavy. It can feel a bit like lugging a suitcase to get it up on the bed. To reap the benefits, look for one that’s about 10% of your body weight.
Just a note: never use a weighted blanket with an infant. However, if you’re thinking your child might benefit from one, kid-specific weights are available. Even if your blanket is just for you, be careful if you have small children at home. Depending on its weight, you’ll want to make sure little ones are strong enough to lift it up if it’s somewhere they can crawl under it.