A research of young, healthy volunteers reveals that the comfort of feeling cosy and safe with the assistance of a weighted blanket may aid promote sleep by producing a release of melatonin, a hormone connected with sleep.
We all understand that receiving a hug from someone might help us unwind or get the support we need, says Christian Benedict, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden.
And according to him, “I believe this is somewhat comparable with a weighted blanket because the blanket activates our sensory system, and this system transmits information to the brain where it effects particular structures that play a role in the regulation of melatonin.”
Consequently, Benedict explains, “the body feels ready—now that I’m safe, I can relax—and that communicates back to the brain that we are ready to commence sleep, which is why it enhances the melatonin signal.
The Journal of Sleep Research published the study online on Monday.
A heavier blanket causes a higher melatonin increase.
There were 26 young, non-insomniac men and women who participated in the study. The participants had two experimental sessions: the first was a “adaptation” night in the lab, and the second was the actual experiment. According to the authors, the adaptation night served to assist participants in acclimating to the study’s conditions. Using the Karolinska Tiredness Scale, participants’ sleepiness was measured every 20 minutes between 10 and 11 p.m. and between 7 and 8 a.m. the following morning. Saliva was also taken every 20 minutes throughout this time.
Using a sophisticated wearable equipment that analyses various physiological signs of sleep, the length of sleep was also recorded.
The researchers noted that rises in melatonin in the saliva samples they took were bigger between 10 and 11 p.m. when individuals used the weighted blanket, adding that they focused on “total sleep duration as an endpoint” for this study.
When participants utilised the weighted blanket as opposed to the light blanket, there was also an early but transient rise in oxytocin levels, but this increase was not statistically significant, the researchers noted. The so-called “love” hormone oxytocin regulates a variety of elements of human behaviour, including nursing and birthing.
However, there was no change in the measurements of tiredness between the two blanket situations. When individuals used the weighted blanket instead of the light blanket, there were no appreciable variations in the amount of time they spent sleeping overall.
But as Benedict notes, different people react differently to melatonin. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for instance, as well as older persons who can no longer manufacture enough melatonin on their own, may both benefit in some way from it.
Overall, most research indicates that melatonin doesn’t help people fall asleep on its own. The biological event of night, which includes sleep, is prepared for by melatonin, yet it functions via a relatively potent placebo effect: According to Benedict, people think melatonin would make them sleep better, and thinking it makes it happen.
Additionally, Benedict argues that using melatonin pills is not always healthy just because the body produces melatonin on its own. For instance, when people consume while having high levels of melatonin in their bodies, the melatonin instructs the pancreas to stop producing insulin as it normally does in reaction to the food. They consequently incur the danger of having high blood sugar levels, which can be detrimental over time. Additionally, there is a chance that kids will access their parents’ melatonin supplies, and melatonin can be quite dangerous to kids.
There are many weighted blankets on the market, and they are sold for medicinal purposes. Before choosing a blanket, people should test them out. If a blanket is overly heavy, the impact may be smothering rather than cosy and secure.
Benedict also warns that expensive thick blankets used for therapeutic purposes can cost up to $250 in Scandinavia, so doctors may still wish to suggest them for their insomniac patients if they can afford the blanket. As an alternative, he advises individuals to think about purchasing more than one lightweight blanket and adding weight as necessary.
Future research should examine whether the stimulatory effect on melatonin secretion persists when using a weighted blanket for longer periods of time, according to the study’s authors. “Our study is the first to suggest that using a weighted blanket may lead to a greater release in melatonin,” they write.
They claimed that it is unclear whether the rise in melatonin seen in the study had therapeutic value.