Anxiety and insomnia have a complicated relationship and they often go hand in hand. The two are deeply related in that each can be the cause of the other. Anxiety and stress can cause the mind to spin with worry at night when it’s time to go to sleep, causing sleeplessness and insomnia. Insomnia can also cause anxiety because the inability to sleep causes worry and creates stress. Whether your insomnia is short-term or long-term, it can certainly affect your daytime productivity and other aspects of your life.
What is Insomnia?
People who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, whether because of the inability to fall asleep when they should or waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning, are experiencing insomnia. For most people, a night of poor sleep every once in a while is not unusual. Worry or even just drinking caffeine too late in the day can disrupt a person’s ability to get proper sleep. If this just happens occasionally, it’s referred to as acute insomnia.
When insomnia lasts for more than three nights a week for at least three weeks consecutively, this is considered to be chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia can lead to a variety of health disorders, including problems with physical, mental, and emotional health. Because sleep is critical for the brain and body to function properly, insomnia is a problem that should not be ignored.
How to Treat Insomnia Due to Anxiety
Doctors are learning more and more about the impact of stress and anxiety on people’s health. As worry causes lack of sleep, lack of sleep causes impaired function, impaired function causes anxiety, and anxiety causes a lack of sleep. This type of downward spiral can become almost impossible to break without some sort of helpful intervention.
Recently, research has been done to determine options for improving sleep when related to anxiety. Some doctors choose to treat anxiety with anti-depressants or other medications that may be able to promote healthy sleep patterns. However, since a side effect of some anti-depressants can be sleeplessness and insomnia, this does not work for everyone.
Some people would prefer to treat their anxiety and insomnia in a more natural manner. In this case, cognitive behavioral therapy may be useful, including counseling and training for better sleep hygiene.
One recently explored treatment is the use of a weighted blanket for anxiety and insomnia. Weighted blankets provide Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS) which is a therapy in which pressure is provided all over the body. Similar to the benefits of massage therapy, DPTS and weighted blankets help lift the mood and battle against anxiety.
Weighted blankets are used in the psychiatric community in order to help calm children and adults who struggle with sensory issues. This process is sometimes referred to as “grounding”. In recent years it has been discovered that the weight in blankets can be used effectively for people who struggle from insomnia related to anxiety.
How Do Weighted Blankets Decrease Anxiety and Insomnia?
Weighted blankets are able to mold to the body, similar to the feeling of receiving a warm hug. Several health benefits affect people who use a weighted blanket for anxiety and insomnia. These include:
Increased Serotonin and Dopamine. Gentle pressure applied to the body encourages the production of serotonin and dopamine in the same way that massage does, helping to lift the mood. These “feel good” chemicals are critical in promoting a general feeling of well-being and reducing the effects of stress and anxiety. In turn, serotonin naturally turns into melatonin, which is a substance that promotes healthy sleep cycles for the body.
Relaxed Nervous System. As weighted blankets are used by children or adults, the nervous system is provided with the opportunity to be calm and relaxed. This is particularly helpful for people who have sensory issues that keep them with a heightened sense of stress and don’t allow them to fall asleep with ease. As the weight makes the body feel safe, relaxation follows.
Reduced Cortisol Levels. Some studies have shown that the use of a weighted blanket may help to reduce the levels of cortisol released at night. Cortisol is a hormone that is released during stress that causes wakefulness and makes it difficult to relax or fall asleep. Elevated cortisol levels that don’t drop naturally can cause a myriad of health problems including insomnia, as well as anxiety, depression, and weight gain. The pressure touch provided by a weighted blanket can help to combat the release of cortisol.
Reduced Nighttime Awakenings. Sleeping with a weighted blanket may help to reduce the number of times a person wakes up at night. This helps to reduce occurrences of waking up in the night and then being unable to return to sleep.
How to Use a Weighted Blanket for Anxiety and Insomnia
Weighted blankets usually come with recommendations by the manufacturer regarding their use. A good rule of thumb is to use a blanket for approximately 10% of the person’s body weight. Most adults find the use of a 15-30 pound weighted blanket for anxiety and insomnia to be most effective. Children may need slightly more weight—approximately 10% of the body weight plus one or two pounds extra. An occupational therapist or medical practitioner should be able to offer recommendations for your exact needs.
Most people find that weighted blankets made from natural fibers (such as 100% cotton) are more comfortable and breathable, without causing overheating. The insides of the blanket may be made from plastic or polyester pellets sewn into compartments so that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the body.
Many medical experts agree that weighted blankets not only help with insomnia and anxiety, but could possibly help with these other health conditions as well:
- Cerebral palsy
- Bipolar disorder
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Sensory Disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Dental Anxiety
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- (Check out these 10 tips to help calm anxiety in kids with autism)
Use of weighted blankets may be restricted for people with certain medication conditions of a circulatory, temperature regulation (including menopause), or respiratory nature. Those recovering from surgery should also not use a weighted blanket. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or health conditions.
If you or someone close to you is struggling to find a solution for problems with anxiety and insomnia, a weighted blanket may be the very answer you’re looking for. Natural and safe for almost anyone to use, weighted blankets offer comfort and security to the mind and a healthy form of relaxation for the body.