One night, when he was sitting in his lounge room feeling particularly cold, he began piling on blankets to keep warm. “As I tried to lie on the couch and switch off at the end of the day, I realised that somehow with all the extra weight I felt secure … I could feel my stress edge away. I began to relax.”
His hunch about the calming effect of heavy bedclothes was confirmed one night at dinner with his aunt. “My aunty, who has worked in disability service for the majority of her life, explained how weighted blankets can have a remarkable effect on people suffering from sensory disorders.”
Studies have shown that many people relax under the weight of a weighted blanket.
“Children and adults with autism are often seeking ‘sensory feedback’ from their external environment due to their overactive neurological behaviour,” says Fogarty, who explains that ordinary Duvets aren’t heavy enough to meet their needs and help them sleep.
With that, the Calming Blanket was born. Now, almost eight months later, it’s an unlikely but booming business.
It seems almost too simple to be true, but research has shown that a weighted blanket – some of them carrying up to 10 kilograms of tiny glass beads – can not only assist those with ADHD and autism who can struggle to fall and stay asleep, but alleviate stress, insomnia, and even help to minimise restless leg syndrome.
“A mother who purchased a Calming Blanket tells me her daughter with autism and ADHD can now sleep in past 5am and requires far less occupational therapy in the morning,” Fogarty says.
A weighted blanket can naturally reduce stress, soothe aches and pains, and increase relaxation. Photo: Calming Blanket
The deep pressure of a weighted blanket provides what’s known as proprioceptive input – feedback for the brain to help it keep track of where it is. Basically, it keeps the brain calm and can even increase serotonin. Other brands, such as the Serenity Weighted Blanket, are available as a 5.5-kilogram organic cotton Duvet and claim to increase the feel-good hormone oxytocin by providing a “hugging” effect, thereby lowering blood pressure and producing a greater feeling of relaxation.
It makes sense. Almost every society swaddles babies to help them feel secure and drift off to sleep, the logic being that the womb is already such a cozy place, so why not keep the party going? But it might even go deeper than that. Maybe it’s as simple as this: humans just feel better when they’re hugged.
This idea is currently being floated on the Calming Blanket website, which claims that “deep pressure therapy (DPT) helps our body produce serotonin, the ‘happiness hormone’, allowing us to combat stress and anxiety more naturally and without the use of psychotropic medication”.
I decided to put this theory to the test and contacted Fogarty, who recommended choosing a blanket that was roughly 10 per cent of my body weight. I suffer from almost every malady Fogarty mentioned: insomnia, anxiety, stress – even restless leg syndrome, so I knew I was the right demographic.
For adults, there is a choice between 6.8 kilograms or nine kilograms, (children can choose a two-kilogram one). I chose a 6.8-kilogram blanket and can report it is super heavy, almost like a bean bag. After dragging the velvety mass up over myself on my couch, the immediate feeling is one of low-level alarm. If you’ve ever been buried up to your neck in sand at a beach, you’ll know what I mean.
But within minutes I really did begin to feel calm. I tried it the next night on my bed. Success! The trick for me was in gathering the weighted blanket up around the sides of my body, like a human burrito if you will. That way I didn’t feel “buried” but instead felt, dare I say … “held”?
The added bonus, of course, is that it’s keeping me warm on these winter nights.