Previous research has explored the benefits of weighted blankets and generally found that they mitigate anxiety and promote sleep. Though weighted blanket literature is scarce compared to other constructs, such as mindfulness, these benefits have been replicated across a handful of studies and populations. We’ve discussed the mechanism by which these two problems -sleep and anxiety- are interrelated and feed off of each other, so it’s not surprising that weighted blankets can attenuate issues related to both. Using a weighted blanket to reduce these presenting concerns is simple, you place the blanket on top of you and let the deep pressure work its magic. The boundaries of benefits that weighted blankets can bring are still being explored by researchers so that we can fully understand what weighted blankets can treat.
Unfortunately, the process of publication is arduous, and COVID-19 has certainly stalled many researchers who were conducting in-person studies. Still, as the literature slowly seeps out into the public eye, we have been diligently scouring databases to bring you information about the latest findings of weighted blankets. In our search, we recently came across a study that explored deep pressure touch as a way to promote interoception, or the internal sense of the body. Specifically, Jung et al. (2021) explored how deep pressure touch can enhance one’s breathwork training.
Why is Breathwork training important?
Breathing is important for obvious reasons, but attention to the breath is also a key component for my psychological interventions (e.g., mindfulness). Irregular breathing is linked to issues with the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is our “fight or flight” response that occurs when we are presented with a potential threat. As the body prepares to deal with the perceived threat, the heartbeat rises, breathing rate increases muscles tense, and we perspire. There does not need to be an actual threat for the sympathetic nervous system to be activated. Anxiety is the result of a heightened sympathetic nervous system response in the absence of a feared stimulus. The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” mechanism of the body. Essentially, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bringing the body back to a state of homeostasis. Decreased breaths per minute (around 6-10) are linked with the preservation of autonomic functioning or decreased anxiety. Breathwork can ground a person with high anxiety, as it’s something tangible that can take them out of the spiraling thoughts. Moreso, breathwork mitigates chronic stress as it elicits relaxation within the body.
Additionally, there is research to suggest that people who suffer from depression have breathing irregularities that impact the brain. Researchers theorize that breathwork can help promote better breathing patterns which can help areas of the brain associated with depression. However, a randomized control study also concluded that more research needs to be done on the relationship between breathing and depression. The study found a beneficial effect from mindfulness-based breathing, but replication is key to determine if results are replicated across samples.
Practicing tuning into the breath, or breathwork training is helpful in multiple capacities that do not solely stem from mental health problems. For example, breathwork is important for those involved in theater, music, or sports. Any task that requires focus on the breath should be met with diligent breathwork.
What did the Researchers find on breathwork training and deep pressure touch?
Their research was not in the typical experimental form that we see across many of the other studies we’ve dissected, but instead, the researchers used themselves as participants as they explored a pressure-providing device on one’s breathing patterns.
Jung et al. (2021) found that there patterns of breathing shift when pressure is placed on certain parts of the body. The theory is that the pressure brings a heightened sense of awareness about the breath, which makes the user more aware of their breathing patterns. As cited previously, breathing patterns, and breaths per minute can have a myriad of health benefits. Therefore, finding ways to enhance breath awareness and promote breathwork is an additional method of promoting mental health wellbeing.
How can breathwork training apply to weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets were created to provide pressure against the body, that is their sole purpose. One may enhance their breath by purposefully using their weighted blanket as an aid during breathwork. To do this, you can lay down or sit upright, lay the weighted blanket across your chest, and notice the sensation of the pressure as your body rises and falls with each breath. Purposeful and intentional breathing is challenging by nature because our mind can easily take control, causing our body to automatically inhale and exhale without much thought. The pressure helps maintain awareness as it’s a constant stimulus that you can feel. As you take a breath, you can physically feel the increased pressure of the blanket against your body.