Deep Pressure Stimulation and Weighted Blankets

Have you ever woken up on a cold wintery morning snuggled under the weight of heavy blankets feeling so peaceful that you just don’t want to get out of bed?  Isn’t that just the best feeling ever?  That feeling is the effect deep pressure stimulation has on the nervous system.

When you apply deep pressure to the body, the body switches from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. This is the so-called switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest”.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the “alert” system in the body. This is the system that kicks in during stressful situations and when activated for too long, it will leave the body feeling tired, on edge, anxious and irritable. Sleep may become interrupted or deprived and the digestive system might act up.

Unfortunately, people living with different types of dementias, have difficulty receiving and responding to information coming into the brain through the senses and often spend long periods stuck in the sympathetic nervous system, leaving them to feel anxious and finding it very difficult to calm down.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is the “calming” system in the body, slowing the heart rate, relaxing the muscles and improving circulation.  This system allows the body to produce “happy” hormones, the same hormones that make you feel great after a good workout.

As deep pressure is applied to the body, the PSNS is activated bringing on a sense of calm. With this, the body releases two “feel good” hormones, serotonin and dopamine that help with sleep, digestion, memory, feeling more focused and less impulsive. Serotonin and dopamine also help control behaviours which are often seen in those living with dementia.

This is where weighted blankets come in.  These blankets look much like a duvet but have numerous compartments filled with glass beads or pellets. When the blanket is laid across the body, it provides evenly distributed weight across the body resulting in deep pressure stimulation. While resting under the weighted blanket, the sympathetic (alert) nervous system is shut down and the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system is activated, allowing the body to relax and drift off to a peaceful, less interrupted sleep. The result is waking up feeling refreshed, less anxious with an improved well-being.

Many residents use weighted blankets at the John M. Parrott Centre resulting in improved quality of sleep and decreased restlessness.  Weighted blankets can be purchased at many retailers as well as on the internet. When buying the perfect weighted blanket for you or for a loved one, look for a blanket that weighs approximately 10% of the individual’s body weight and then get ready to feel as peaceful as you do on those cold wintery nights.

Check out The Huggler – Cheryl’s original weighted blanket.


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