My Christmas present came yesterday! And I had gotten my partner’s gift a little while back, too, so yesterday we celebrated our Christmas of 2016 gift exchange.
I promise that we’re not hopeless procrastinators; we have each indeed been working on our mutual gift projects since November, like everybody else. A communication mishap between my mom and I (I ask her to order my gifts for my partner and then reimburse her, so that the credit card statement doesn’t blow the surprise for him) a US postal snafu there, and a difficult decision over yonder, but who’s counting? Not us, anymore. It’s a done deal.
His gift to me made my world so much brighter. Or maybe I should say, more welcomingly dampened.
He got me a weighted blanket! Seventeen pounds’ worth of weighted blanket. I heaved it out of its shipping box and lovingly surveyed its gorgeous and calming purple and lavender colors. I meticulously read the care-instructional documentation that came with it. I committed its recommendations and numbers to memory.
And then, I tried it on. Immediately, the world became a more tolerable place. With every proprioceptor spoken for, my nervous system finally had something to do besides freak out. It was pure bliss.
So much pure bliss, in fact, that as I settled down and settled in underneath its cool comfort (it doesn’t trap heat), I went away. It was like taking a Benadryl antihistamine, except that I didn’t have to wait for the effect to kick in; the off-switch was immediate.
Within 15 minutes, I was asleep. Yes, asleep–right there in the middle of the day, in the ocean of a rare nap, made more impressive by its sheer length: an hour and a half.
I remember waking up somewhere in the middle but, still under the spell of the sandman, in the clutches of unimaginable extreme comfort, I rolled over and continued dosing.
When I woke up, I was still incredibly groggy. My amazement matched. I could have actually gone back to sleep had I not put my foot down and said, “girl, don’t sleep your Saturday away!” Because I had dropped off around 3.30pm and here it was after five.
I knew the price of taking a nap; I would pay dearly on Sunday night, ending up a prisoner of insomnia until four or five in the morning and not feeling tired on Monday, but making mistakes at work. Who needs that? I thought for sure that I would at least have trouble falling asleep that (Saturday) night.
Nope. When the time came to sleep, I snuggled under my special blanket again and once again, it delivered its magic. The old legend involves a magic carpet. I guess they weren’t autistic; it’s the blankets that have all the magic.
I dropped off last night (this morning) around 1-2am, just as I would have had I not taken a nap at all. And I didn’t emerge from my slumber until after 8am. I was (and still am!) highly impressed!
The moment of truth will arrive tonight and reveal itself in full. In general, throughout the majority of my life, I’ve had the most difficulty falling asleep on Sunday nights. That’s tonight, about 10-12 hours away. The looming Monday morning and associated workweek usually overwhelm my system against my will, somewhere unreachable beyond my immediate consciousness. Like a puppy who has slipped out of their leash and is now just out of reach. So close, and yet, so far.
My view of an upcoming Monday from my perch on a Sunday night often works the same way. It’s too close for comfort, yet too far away at this time to be able to face it head-on and tackle it by the horns. I’m a sitting duck in its path, but it’s not upon me yet, so there’s nothing I can do, no action I can take. I always feel more empowered when I can take some kind of action. For me, proactivity seems to be the antidote to helplessness.
But I’m getting off topic. Not all hope is lost; I now have an opportunity to handle a Sunday night and an impending Monday morning like anybody else. I now have a tool in my toolbox, a gameplan, a secret weapon: 17 pounds of blanket! Now I can dial my nervous system down to a dull roar.
As I had tried it on and started to sink down through the depths of consciousness yesterday, I thought to myself, “so this is what ‘normal’ feels like”. Here I sat, an Asperger’s/autistic person under a weighted blanket, who just gained the opportunity to experience an aspect of neurology that the rest of the world, in general, takes for granted. All it took was 17 pounds, and the playing field had been leveled. At least in one respect.
Truthfully, I’d been looking into weighted blankets (also known as therapeutic blankets) for a long time (two thumbs up for an astute partner! He noticed). For those who aren’t familiar with these, they’re specially-made blankets that look like comforters (for adults or children) with various amounts of weight added to them. The story behind these blankets is that they’re awesome for anyone with anxiety, sleep difficulty, overwhelming environment, sensory processing issues, overstimulation/overload, and similar conditions. The idea is akin to Temple Grandin’s “squeeze machine” that she would put herself into in order to calm herself.
What these blankets do is occupy the proprioceptors (that big word I mentioned before, but hadn’t yet defined), which are little sensors clustered in your joints and muscles that tell your body where it is in space and time. They send information to your brain. Those of us with sensory overload, especially during periods of low activity or inactivity (such as when we’re trying to relax, and especially when we want/need to sleep) often find ourselves wound up. Our nervous systems are all dressed up, with nowhere to go. That’s the reason behind the “stim”–or self-soothing–activities, which typically involve repetitive movements or some other pleasant stimulus. Our “stims” stimulate those proprioceptors and in so doing, relieve our nervous systems. (I imagine, although I’m not sure, that that’s where the “stim” term might come from?)
In fact, the blanket’s weight itself is much like a “stim” – a continuous pressure applied evenly and balanced throughout the body. The firm pressure gives those proprioceptor sensors something to do besides nothing. It occupies the nervous system, giving it a calm and pleasant focus. As it does this, our bodies release serotonin, the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) needed for relaxation, pain relief, proper digestion, immune system strength, and…sleep.
In other words, it can be extremely helpful for people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, people with ADHD/ADD, insomnia, PTSD, generalized anxiety, some forms of clinical depression, chronic stress, sensory processing or sensory integrative conditions/disorders, panic attacks, restless leg syndromes, and the like.
It’s no wonder that most of us with sensory sensitivity, when overstimulated or overloaded, also become wired and suffer from pain syndromes or pain sensitivity, irritable bowel conditions, immune system disruption, and insomnia! It’s all connected to serotonin. These weighted blankets, while not necessarily intended to replace a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI, a common class of antidepressant medication), might provide a way for some people to do exactly that, especially if they’re otherwise getting enough Tryptophan, a serotonin precursor (the body only make the desired biochemicals if it has the raw materials needed to do so).
The blanket weight ranges anywhere from two to 24 pounds. Since that’s a pretty wide range, the typical recommendation is to select the blanket weight that corresponds with your body weight. Most websites that I came across will list these numbers a chart, and the numbers themselves will be ranges.
The industry standard for choosing the weight of a therapeutic blanket is an easy formula to use when estimating the ideal weight for you. That formula is: 10% of your body weight, plus one pound, rounded up to the next whole pound.
For example, if I weigh 160 pounds, then my ideal weight is 160 x 0.10 = 16 + 1 pound = 17 total pounds of blanket. Put another way, 160/10 = 16 + 1 = a 17-pound blanket.
Some manufacturers give estimated ranges, and you can choose whether you want a blanket on the heavier end of the range or the lighter end.
For those for whom the following information would be helpful, I’ll disclose where my blanket came from. Normally I don’t plug companies or engage in any commercial promotion of any kind, but I do this out of the desire to help. Please know that I do not have any kind of vested interest in mentioning the specific company or singing their praises. I have no financial ties, arrangements, or agreements of any kind with them. I receive no benefit from them or any third party by mentioning them. I’m simply a happy customer.
My partner ordered my blanket from Weight On Me (link to MyWeightedBlanket.com). They have blankets for both children and adults, available in a wide range of weight, a variety of different soft, sensory-friendly fabrics, and an equally-wide variety of colors.
In addition, I found their website to be extremely informative, which was especially helpful for my partner and me, as beginners. They explain the benefits in a way that is logical, scientific, and credible; their information coincides with everything I know as a doctor; there’s nothing fishy or snake-oil here that I can see. They’ll walk you through choosing the right weight. They accurately describe their fabric and color, and when I received mine, it was exactly as they had described and promised.
One thing to know is that these blankets can take three or four weeks, give or take, to arrive (the timeframe varies by manufacturer; a longer time is, in my opinion, a positive and encouraging sign; it means that they’re not hurrying them through). They typically don’t pull a prefab blanket off the shelf and say “here you go”; they wait until you place an order with your specifications (specs) and they make it according to your instruction. So, the processing can take a little while; if you place an order today, it’ll likely take about a month. It won’t be an overnight thing; you won’t have it tomorrow. That’s the only downside, but that’s also the hallmark of a good weighted blanket manufacturer.
If/when you place an order, do be sure that you’re in Decision-Making Mode, because you’ll be making a lot of decisions from a lot of different options. They say they have about 1,000 fabrics/colors to choose from. So I would definitely undertake this project on a Spoon Surplus day. 🙂
I can say that, so far, this is one of the best things that’s happened to me since I realized I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. I draped it over myself and immediately wondered how I had survived life without it!
(Note: of these websites I only endorse ASAN (Autism Self-Advocacy Network and I only have experience with MyWeightedBlanket.com as a customer; the other sites are unknown except that they had good information.)
“What Is a Weighted Blanket?” – from MyWeightedBlanket.com
“How Weighted Blanket Therapy Can Help Those With Anxiety, Autism, and More” – from MedicalDaily.com (although the information is good, an annoying video autoplays on their website, so have your NoScript plug-in turned on!)
“The Benefits of Weighted Blankets for Anxiety, Stress, and Insomnia” – from MosaicWeightedBlankets.com
“What in the World Is Sensory Input and Deep Pressure?” – from LornasWeightedBlankets.com
“Choosing a Weighted Blanket” – from MyWeightedBlanket.com
“How Blanket Sizing Works” – from SensaCalm.com
“Custom Weighted Wraps” – from SensaCalm.com
“Sisters Make Expensive Blankets For Kids With ASD – And Give Them Away For Free” – from TheAutismSite.com (not that I support their dastardly puzzle piece or ableist “affected by” language, but this particular article was cool)
“Make Your Own Weighted Blanket For Under $65 With Step-By-Step Pictures” – from ASAN (Autism Self-Advocacy Network)
“Sewing Tutorial: How To Make a Weighted Blanket (Sensory-Friendly)” – from MamaSmiles.com (for those braver and more resourceful than I am, who want to go the DIY (Do It Yourself) route) 🙂
“Easier Weighted Blanket Idea For Autistic People” – from ASAN (Autism Self-Advocacy Network) (an alternative to a weighted blanket, homemade)