- 5 Ways Weighted Blankets Help With RLS
- Relevant Studies
- How to Use a Weighted Blanket for RLS
- A Natural Solution
We’re all dying for a little R&R at the end of the day. You work hard, and you deserve some restful sleep to recharge your batteries. So you crawl into bed, ready for some hard-earned shut-eye. Your eyes close, and then you realize, what the heck are my legs doing? Do they suddenly have a mind of their own? Living with the symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) can be a real pain when it comes to sleep, primarily because the desire to move often happens when we are still or sleeping.
Sensations can be different and hard to describe. Some commonalities include aches, pulling, itching, and creepy-crawly sensations. All of which does not feel good. It’s tough to find a quick-fix, and just know you’re not alone in this.
Luckily, there is a natural remedy on the market to ease the pain and agitation – weighted blankets.
Weighted blankets are pretty much what they sound like, but their benefits go beyond that of your typical comforter. Now, let’s take a peek at some of the benefits they offer for those with RLS.
5 Ways Weighted Blankets Can Help Restless Legs Syndrome
1. Leverage Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP)
Wonder why massages are so therapeutic and healing? They are the innovators of deep touch pressure therapy. DTP is essentially a firm touch, like that of a hug or the feeling of being swaddled, that has a calming effect.
The pressure soothes the nervous system and allows the body to relax. More specifically, it eases the physiological responses, taking you out of fight-or-flight mode, and allows for deeper breathing, a lowered heart rate, and muscle relaxation.
If you perked up at “muscle relaxation,” that’s one of the main reasons why weighted blankets are great for those with restless leg syndrome. The weight eases the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling involuntary movement, and the sympathetic by soothing the mind as anxiety can go hand-in-hand with RLS.
The continuous pressure throughout the evening, provided by your weighted blanket, works with your body as long as it’s on.
2. Increase Happy Hormones (Serotonin & Dopamine)
A significant benefit of DTP and weighted blankets – hormone regulation. To go further into the science of DTP, we see shifts at a hormonal level. We need a certain amount of happy and nervous hormones to keep us at baseline, but they often become unbalanced when we experience distress or physical uneasiness.
Touch helps bring them back to a stable, if not thriving, level. Think of hugs. We need a certain amount a day to keep our serotonin and dopamine levels happy. We may not have access to these as much as we’d like, but that’s where our weighted blankets come in.
The pressure from weighted blankets activates the release of serotonin, the mood-regulating hormone. Serotonin is also helpful in the release of melatonin, our sleep hormone. And dopamine, our feel-good hormone, works with serotonin to combat cortisol, our major stress hormone linked to anxiety.
A lack of dopamine has been a potential link to RLS, as it plays a role in controlling muscle movement. The mind-body connection is very real, and weighted blankets help us reach a healthy balance for optimal sleep and physical peace.
3. Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Speaking of the mind-body connection, I think any of us who suffer from restless leg syndrome understand the relationship between the urge to move about and anxiety. Stress is a trigger for RLS, resulting in anxiety and lack of sleep.
As mentioned, weighted blankets calm the nervous system, slowing the heart rate. As DTP does its thing, the therapy reduces the symptoms of RLS throughout the night, giving the mind one less thing to worry about. The reduction in arousal, or grounding effect, also helps calm both the mind and body by reducing the release of cortisol. As briefly mentioned before, cortisol is the major stress hormone and at escalated levels, can increase anxiety, insomnia, and anxiety—all things we would like to nix.
A study performed by a group of occupational therapists found weighted blankets were effective in reducing blood pressure, pulse rate, and pulse oximetry, all factors attributed to anxiety.
Additionally, 78% of patients chose weighted blankets as a preferred calming modality. That’s a pretty significant amount, which should help build your confidence in selecting a weighted blanket to reduce stress and the anxiety piggybacking off RLS.
4. Betters Overall Sleep Quality
While symptoms of RLS are said to almost always subside by morning, why suffer throughout the evening? I probably don’t have to tell you that lack of sleep is one of the top causes and effects of restless leg syndrome. You start moving, and then you’re awake and can’t fall back asleep. Or you start stressing about movement, and you can’t fall asleep in the first place. Regardless of the circumstance, weighted blankets help improve sleep quality through the reduction of cortisol and increase in serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.
Dopaminergic drugs are typically the first line of defense against RLS to improve sleep disturbances, but why take drugs when weighted blankets perform the same? Especially when these drugs are meant for temporary use and can worsen symptoms over time. We’ve already discussed the role of dopamine and how it affects our bodies when it comes to anxiety, sleep, and RLS. But again, weighted blankets allow for a prolonged and sustained dopamine release throughout the evening, acting as a natural solution.
5. Soothes Nerves
We now know how weighted blankets relax the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, both of which contribute to the arousal of the nerves. These bodily systems are responsible for that leg irritation you can’t seem to shake. The impulse to move or itch can almost seem insatiable. The weight in weighted blankets lets the body know it’s safe, in turn reducing the heart rate and rapid breathing triggered by arousal.
The weight also helps lessen the tossing and turning experienced during anxious sleep. Imagine a small sea of hands firmly pressing your body into the mattress. I’m not sure whether that comparison is soothing or not, but the point is that the light restriction in movement plays a role in the grounding effect.
This study found that the effects of earthing (grounding) synchronize cortisol release more in line with your circadian rhythm, resulting in a calm and restful sleep. Do we see a pattern yet?
Although there are no direct studies on whether weighted blankets work specifically for those with RLS, relevant studies can be looked at through the lens of one who suffers from the condition.
The five elements above can infer the reduction in mental and physiological distress and hormone regulation. Some suggest that RLS may be related to low dopamine levels, the muscle movement aid. Let’s look at some compelling research highlighting the benefits of DTP and weighted blankets:
- The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found an intervention by the weighted blanket resulted in significantly better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, and reduced daytime symptoms of fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
- This study in the Journal of Integral Medicine found a significant reduction in pulse rate and thus calming the body among patients suffering from anxiety. They further suggested weighted blankets as a natural alternative to medicine.
- The American Journal of Occupational Therapists saw a significant reduction in anxiety when introducing weighted blankets to their patients.
- This study on the effects of deep pressure stimulation on physiological arousal found wearing a weighted vest, for even short periods of time, reduced sympathetic arousal and non-stimulus-driven electrical occurrences.
- For correlation’s sake, researchers from the board of the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation and the Sleep Medicine Clinic found RLS and mood disorders are frequently comorbid and that a dopamine treatment made an effective intervention.
Hopefully, these findings support our argument about introducing a weighted blanket into your bedtime routine.
How to use a weighted blanket for RLS
There isn’t really a unique how-to for those with RLS, but it’s safe to say that you want to make sure your weighted blanket fully covers your legs. No peeping toes, please. Generally, you want to cover your entire body, except for your head and face. Please do not suffocate yourself. Doing so would reverse the calming effect we are looking to achieve. Luckily, there are a few rules of thumb that apply when choosing a weighted blanket:
- Your weighted blanket should weigh 10% of your body weight, give or take a few lbs.
- Pick a size that covers your body and doesn’t hang too far over the bed.
- Choose a fabric with optimal temperature, texture, and breathability for your ideal sleep situation.
- Opt for a filling that avoids any allergy, sensory, or tactile sensitivities.
Stick to these simple guidelines to ensure the best weighted blanket experience possible. Don’t stress the process. If you need a little more guidance, check out our post on how to choose the perfect weighted blanket. And really, there’s no special treatment for those with RLS, but only benefits to gain.
A Natural Solution
Skip the drugs and opt for a weighted blanket. Not only is it natural, but also effective. As we’ve seen by now, they’re endorsed by many health professionals and have been owning their moment in the press spotlight. And these endorsements are for a good reason.
This au natural hormone regulation tool is one of the very few on the market. So give a weighted blanket a shot before hitting the doctor’s office. Of course, if you have severe symptoms, maybe it’s time to see a health professional, but a weighted blanket is always there to assist you at night, or heck, take it to school or work with you.
We truly hope a weighted blanket can be the perfect solution for you, especially if you live with restless leg syndrome. These blankets work to calm your physical body and the processes behind its nighttime agitation. So tell those unpleasant sensations they are no longer welcome, or let your weighted blanket have the conversation for you.
Good luck in your shopping adventure; you won’t regret your purchase.