Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Think back to when you were a child. When you were excited, scared, or nervous, what did you want? Did you want the comfort of your mother’s gentle but loving hug? Or perhaps your father’s stronger bear hug? When you got it, did you instantly feel that anxiety calm down?
Well, there’s an actual scientific reason for that. It’s called Deep Pressure Stimulation, or DPS for short. DPS is gentle, but firm, pressure in the form of a hug, squeeze, or even just a hold that can relax your nervous system if it’s out of whack. While there are many specialized tools used by therapists and in school, something as simple as a bear hug given by a trusted person can actually be effective. Stress is often caused by an activated fight-or-flight system. Whether there’s a real reason or not, your body thinks it has to run away from whatever large predator it’s imagining. As our status as a species of hunter gatherers who roam the plains running from (or toward, to hunt) large predators is pretty much non-existent in the 21st century, this fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered by what it perceives as stress
Broke up with your boyfriend? Worried about asking your boss for a raise? Some people’s nervous systems react to these stresses as if they’re a wooly mammoth they need to run away from and go into overdrive, producing the anxiety many of us are familiar with today. So, what’s a person who’s living alone to do?
Enter: the weighted blanket.
Not just your average blanket, weighted blankets are “filled with glass or plastic pellets that make them heavy,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. In choosing a blanket, it is generally advised that you pick one that is about ten percent of your weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should get a blanket that is 15 pounds in weight. The pellets are what give the blanket its weight and what provides that warm hug-like pressure, as opposed to a normal blanket that is light as a feather.
So what’s the evidence? In one study of 32 adult volunteers, 63% reported lower anxiety after lying under a 30-pound blanket for 5 minutes. Another study tested weighted blankets in 30 people who had been hospitalized for a mental health crisis, and 60% reported lower anxiety after using the blanket. A simple Google search will reveal there is a plethora of weighted blankets on the market, but it is too early to draw any scientific conclusions.
As you feel the weight of the blanket settle around your body, your mind can hopefully become occupied with the sensation of gentle pressure, rather than the roving thoughts that give you anxiety. Sleep becomes something that’s a pleasure, rather than yet another thing to weigh on your mind. After all, it’s not just little children that sometimes need a big hug.