Can Weighted Blankets Really Reduce Stress and Anxiety, or Are Those Claims a Bunch of Fluff?

GeorgeRudy/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgeRudy/iStock via Getty Images

When Atlanta-based editor Lauren Finney got her weighted blanket, it was initially on the recommendation of a physical therapist to help with her joint compression. Now, she tells Mental Floss, she can’t sleep without it. Chicago-based software developer Brandon Behr echoes that sentiment, telling Mental Floss that his weighted blanket “helps tremendously when the anxiety brain won't shut down long enough to fall asleep.”

Weighted blankets (also called gravity blankets), filled with pellets or another material to make them weigh about 10 pounds or more, are all over social media and ads, drawing buyers in with promises of complete comfort and a better night’s sleep. Most brands recommend getting one that’s 10 percent of your body weight for optimal relaxation and comfort.

“The concept is that the sensation may send messages to the brain that increases a sense of well-being,” Dr. Susan Lipkins, CEO of Real Psychology, tells Mental Floss. “Some research suggests that it is similar to pressure massages, which have been shown to help the brain calm down.”

Alternately, says Dr. Kristin Addison-Brown, owner of NEA Neuropsychology, it could have to do with a feeling of being swaddled—an evolutionary throwback to childhood when we felt more safe and secure from the feeling of being tightly wrapped. Ultimately, the purpose of weighted blankets is to bring down a person’s base-level anxiety so they can get some rest, Addison-Brown tells Mental Floss.

Light Evidence on Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets have been touted by their manufacturers as a calming agent for people with anxiety and autism—but Lipkins and Addison-Brown both point out that no substantive peer-reviewed research has been done on them.

“Right now, the empirical evidence is pretty weak,” Addison-Brown says. “I did see one randomized controlled trial where [children with autism] used a weighted blanket versus a regular blanket, but that trial didn’t [show] any objective differences” [PDF].

Interestingly enough, Addison-Brown points out, even though the two groups saw the same results scientifically, the parents and children involved in the study all preferred to use the weighted blanket over a regular blanket. The findings appeared in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2013.

“There’s something inherently pleasing to us about [gravity blankets], but we don’t exactly know why and any real objective measures are not reflecting back,” she says.

Are weighted blankets worth it?

It’s not a one-blanket-fits-all solution. Some people may actively dislike them, and the blankets can cause problems for others. It takes some trial and error to see if they’re the right option.

“Gravity blankets seem to help some people some of the time,” Lipkins says. “The weight, for some, creates a secure and safe environment, allowing the person to relax and fall asleep more easily. Others may feel suffocated and like they can’t move.”

The most common complaints that weighted blanket users told Mental Floss match that idea. Canadian journalist Johanna Read didn’t like the way her blanket pushed her feet into a point. Illinois-based former car technician Noah Dionesotes says he couldn’t get comfortable because he likes to sleep with one leg out of the blanket. Wichita, Kansas, resident Jocelyn Russell says the blanket she bought is too heavy and, ironically, it gives her panic attacks.

In fact, weighted blankets have the potential to be dangerous: The deaths of two children, a 7-month-old and a 9-year-old, have been linked to them.

Neither Lipkins nor Addison-Brown are anxious to prescribe the blankets as a solution, especially since their safety hasn’t been fully established. Instead, they suggest first trying other, more natural ways to fall asleep: don’t watch television late at night, turn off your screens, set a regular bedtime and waking time, and avoid caffeine.

“[You could] also consult a psychologist to help find out what is keeping you awake and how to reduce stress and anxiety in healthful ways,” Lipkins adds.

All that being said, go ahead and try gravity blankets—as long as you do so safely.

“If you can afford it, I don’t see any real harm in it,” Addison-Brown says. “Though I would be very careful using it with people who may have any kind of muscle weakness. You also wouldn’t want to have a child or baby in the bed with you. Just use caution and common sense.”

Here’s What You Need to Know About the New Coronavirus

jarun011/iStock via Getty Images
jarun011/iStock via Getty Images

This morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the second case of the recently discovered coronavirus in the U.S. Find out what it is, where it is, how to avoid it, and all the other need-to-know information about the illness below.

What is the new coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses named for the crown-shaped spikes that cover their surfaces (corona is the Latin word for crown). According to the CDC, human coronaviruses can cause upper-respiratory tract illnesses, including the common cold, and can sometimes lead to more severe lower-respiratory tract issues like pneumonia or bronchitis.

Because this latest coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, is so new, health officials are currently trying to figure out how it works and how to treat it. It’s not the first time a potent new coronavirus has caused an international outbreak: SARS-CoV originated in Asia and spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003, and MERS-CoV first infected people in Saudi Arabia before spreading across the globe in 2012.

Where is the coronavirus outbreak happening?

The majority of cases are in China, which counts more than 800 confirmed diagnoses. Most are in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province where 2019-nCoV was first detected last month. Additional cases have been reported in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The CDC has confirmed two U.S. cases—a man in his thirties outside Seattle, and a 60-year-old woman in Chicago—both of whom had recently returned from trips to Wuhan. A CDC official said another 63 potential cases are being investigated in 22 states, and airports in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and San Francisco are conducting health screenings on passengers arriving from China.

Chinese officials have shut down transportation to and from Wuhan. Tourist spots like Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland, and a portion of the Great Wall are also closed temporarily.

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

Symptoms are similar to those caused by a cold or the flu, including fever, dry cough, and breathing difficulty. The New York Times reported that as of Friday morning, 25 people in China have died from the virus, and most of them were older men with preexisting health conditions like cirrhosis, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

How does the new coronavirus spread?

Because most of the early cases of 2019-nCoV were traced back to a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, health officials think the virus originally spread from infected animals to humans, but it’s now being transmitted from person to person.

Though scientists are still studying exactly how that happens, the leading theory is that it travels in tiny droplets of fluid from the respiratory tract when a person coughs or sneezes.

How do you avoid the new coronavirus?

The CDC is warning everyone to avoid any nonessential trips to Wuhan, and to avoid animals or sick people if you’re traveling elsewhere in China. If you’ve been to China in the last two weeks and experience any of the symptoms listed above, you should seek medical attention immediately—and you should call the doctor’s office or emergency room beforehand to let them know you’re coming.

Otherwise, simply stick to the precautions you’d normally take when trying to stay healthy: Wash your hands often with soap and water, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, stay away from sick people, and thoroughly cook any meat or eggs before eating them.

Should you be worried about the new coronavirus?

The global health community is taking 2019-nCoV seriously in order to curb the outbreak as quickly as possible, but you shouldn’t panic. The CDC maintains that it’s a low-risk situation in the U.S., and public health officials are echoing that message.

“We don’t want the American public to be worried about this, because their risk is low,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA Today.

[h/t USA Today]

Has An Element Ever Been Removed From the Periodic Table?

lucadp/iStock via Getty Images
lucadp/iStock via Getty Images

Barry Gehm:

Yes, didymium, or Di. It was discovered by Carl Mosander in 1841, and he named it didymium from the Greek word didymos, meaning twin, because it was almost identical to lanthanum in its properties. In 1879, a French chemist showed that Mosander’s didymium contained samarium as well as an unknown element. In 1885, Carl von Weisbach showed that the unknown element was actually two elements, which he isolated and named praseodidymium and neodidymium (although the di syllable was soon dropped). Ironically, the twin turned out to be twins.

The term didymium filter is still used to refer to welding glasses colored with a mixture of neodymium and praseodymium oxides.

One might cite as other examples various claims to have created/discovered synthetic elements. Probably the best example of this would be masurium (element 43), which a team of German chemists claimed to have discovered in columbium (now known as niobium) ore in 1925. The claim was controversial and other workers could not replicate it, but some literature from the period does list it among the elements.

In 1936, Emilio Segrè and Carlo Perrier isolated element 43 from molybdenum foil that had been used in a cyclotron; they named it technetium. Even the longest-lived isotopes of technetium have a short half-life by geological standards (millions of years) and it has only ever been found naturally in minute traces as a product of spontaneous uranium fission. For this reason, the original claim of discovery (as masurium) is almost universally regarded as erroneous.

As far as I know, in none of these cases with synthetic elements has anyone actually produced a quantity of the element that one could see and weigh that later turned out not to be an element, in contrast to the case with didymium. (In the case of masurium, for instance, the only evidence of its existence was a faint x-ray signal at a specific wavelength.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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