Although our son Zach is 22 and has made incredible medical and neurological strides, he continues to experience varying degrees of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Essentially this means that sometimes he is under stimulated and can’t access the same type of sensory experience that I can, and that other times he is unable to integrate all the information coming to his brain and he gets overwhelmed. Ok, this happens to me also, but I don’t react by losing control of my body (usually!)
And of course sometimes Zach is just fine. But the real struggles with his ability to process information peaked durning his school aged years at which time we worked very consistently with a team of Occupational Therapists. Their goal was to provide him with a “sensory diet” that would help him regulate how to manage a lack of inputs and also the overwhelm of too many.
In an attempt to better understand why Zach seemed to fall apart suddenly, become aggressive and throw/break/hit/scream without an apparent “cue” that I could identify, I attended a workshop where I could learn more about it. As an exercise they had us wear gloves, then pass around different objects and see what it was like to try and “feel” them through our sense of touch. It made a lasting impression on me as I started to open to what his day-to-day experience of the sensory world was like. As a result I continued to seek out professional support for him to increase the quality of his day to day life (and ours!)
Our home became a bit of a therapeutic gym. Lots of sensory objects and items to provide him with the “right” mix of stimulation. We had a platform swing installed in the doorway of the kitchen which also turned into a hammock swing. We had a glider in his room and a weighted blanket for his bed. We brought therapeutic interventions to Zach’s day to day activities in an effort to help him regulate his experience. It was a long slog in a way, but looking back it really helped.
Present day, we are very sensitive to what’s happening with his brain and we try our best to only put Zach in situations he can likely manage. He’s come a long way and we are very proud and grateful. We have also learned to look for early clues that a meltdown is in the works and re-route the situation accordingly.
But let’s get back to the weighted blanket. It’s not just for kids and not just for folks with sensory processing challenges. I know this because recently I got my OWN weighted blanket and in that pursuit realized that over the last decade or two this experience of “deep pressure” particularly during sleep is a way to calm the nervous system and one that has become quiet popular. Not only is it super warm (I like to keep the air temp quite low when I sleep) but it gives me a feeling of landing, of security, of being settled.
A diminutive version of this is warming or cooling neck wraps. These are the soft but weighted shoulder wraps you can place around your neck and feel soothed. They are popular at spas and massage venues, but more and more I notice people are using them at home. The dynamic is the same. The weight brings a sense of landing and security. Check it out for yourself if you don’t know what your missing.
Why should you care about your sensory experience? And being able to land? And feel secure? Well because we are living in the most over stimulated, expedited, caffeinated, treadmill paced chaotic environment in human history. There is more stimulation than ever, and our brains just aren’t designed to manage that much data on a continuous basis.
Best selling Author Yuval Noah Hirari writes in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” that the super power of the 21st Century will be our ability to go deep, to go quiet, to sit in stillness and to manage the influx of algorithms and apps and cookies (not the yummy kind) and alerts and continual inputs that dominate our conscious mind. I don’t know if I have developed my stillness practice to the level of it being my super power, but I know the weighted blanket helps “soothe” my neurology.
If this is all news to you, do not be alarmed. We are all struggling in one way or another to find ways to protect our brilliantly wired brain and not overwhelm it, and this is just one avenue. If you are so inspired, buy a neck wrap from Target or Bath & Body Works and see if 10 minutes of a heated, weighted neck wrap feels comforting. Or perhaps one that has been in the freezer, that can also quiet the agitation that comes through our neck and shoulders as a result of stress.
This is a great way to check out your own ability to be still with the help of some sensory weight. If you love it, try the blanket too! But beware, the price of weighted blankets seems to be in sync with their increasing popularity so not a good idea to dive in until you have tried the neck wrap first. I have heard people that don’t like the blanket say they feel suffocated, too hot and like they can’t move.
This is NOT the experience we are going for, so do your research before investing in what could end up feeling like a wrestling match you are losing while trying to rest. Or at least check the return policy to make sure you have options if you hate it.
For you Oura ring lovers, my sleep scores have never been better. Back to back days and weeks of sleep scores in the 90s, and heart rates in the low 50s are all the proof I need that Zach is not the only one who can benefit from what was once considered Occupational Therapy and is now just plain good sleep hygiene for those of us that love it.
Let us know if you try it and how it works out by leaving a comment! This may be the only situation where I welcome the weight of the world on my shoulders, in a literal sense!