The Science Behind Weighted Blankets As A Treatment For ADHD
ADHD impacts millions of children (and adults) worldwide. There are solutions.
Imagine living with a mind that never slows down, one that feels like it’s occupied by jackhammers, a marching band, or thousands of televisions tuned to different channels. Those are just some of the ways people living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) have described their daily existence. Now, imagine trying to fall asleep with a mind like that.
“I don’t know anyone with ADHD who does not have an issue with sleep,” Roberto Olivardia, a psychologist who treats ADHD and a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Psych Central. These sleep problems reportedly associated with ADHD include everything from trouble falling and staying asleep to anxiety around bedtime, nightmares, and breathing difficulties.
So many people with ADHD turn to medications. While these are effective in some instances, they don’t work for all people, and some can be habit-forming, requiring ever-higher doses to work effectively — a particularly troubling concern when the patient is a child. Other medications work too well, making it hard for patients to wake up fully alert the following morning.
Weighted blankets offer another kind of solution.
The blankets are filled with pellets and engineered to be roughly 10 percent of the user’s body weight. That weight allows it to harness the power of proprioceptive input (deep touch stimulation) to gently distribute pressure across a person’s body while they rest.This helps relax the nervous system by increasing serotonin and melatonin levels while decreasing cortisol levels.
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, noted that “when the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep, with a decrease in movements. Subjectively, they believed that using the blanket provided them with a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.”
What this translates to is a feeling of comfort that can help even the most over-active mind start to slow down.
A Calm in the Mental Storm
According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), 11 percent of school-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD and more than 75 percent of those sufferers experience symptoms into adulthood. That’s more than 11 million people in the U.S. alone.
In addition to disordered sleep, these symptoms can include problems focusing, an inability to sit still, extreme restlessness, and difficulty completing tasks. They can affect a person’s ability to have meaningful relationships, manage money, or even drive a car.
While a weighted blanket certainly isn’t a “cureall,” research has shown that deep touch stimulation like that provided by the weighted blankets can help calm an overstimulated mind. For ADHD sufferers, that could translate to an easier time concentrating on the task at hand, whether it be a job, schoolwork, or even just falling sleep at night so they can start the next day with the energy needed to keep time with that marching band inside their brain.