Seeking sound sleep

By Posted on Mar 02 2019 | By

Weighted blankets helping the weary overcome insomnia

One of the silent health issues today is sleeplessness. Silent in the sense it occurs in the depth of night as the afflicted lies motionless, staring at walls and ceilings waiting for the sleep fairy to arrive.

Often, she fails to show or does so reluctantly in the early morning hours. The resulting next day’s work is a slog for the underpowered as they labor through another day of chronic energy loss.

Just less than 50 percent of Americans claim they are not getting a good night’s sleep. Some 164 million citizens struggle with the curse at least once a week.

Coming to the rescue—and profit—are prescription drugs and OTC sleep aids. Americans spend an estimated $41 billion annually on such remedies. The number is anticipated to swell to $52 billion by 2020.

A 2016 Consumer Reports investigation found on average, popular sleeping drugs like Ambien and Lunesta only helped the afflicted get eight to 20 minutes extra sleep a night. Even science seems flummoxed on how to treat the misery.

Given the extent of the problem, troubled sleepers will try almost anything to get some shuteye. In addition to a sea of drugs washing over the problem, numerous devices are pedaled as the secret to sawing wood in peace.

Glasses that block “blue” light emitted by tablets and smartphones are supposed to help counter the loss of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. White-noise machines that block distracting noise, special sleep-inducing masks, “smart” mattresses, calm-inducing smartphone apps and much more are also marshaled to solve the problem.

Perhaps one untried strategy is to simply cruise the internet looking for the best drug, device or secret to a good night’s rest. With over 33 million results popping up on the search word “sleeplessness”, an extended Google hunt might simply bore a person to sleep.

Segmented sleep
Before we jump to the conclusion that not getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is a calamity, let’s consider a pattern that has been around for centuries: segmented sleep.

Segmented sleep, or “polyphasic sleep”, is sleep that is divided into two or more sessions. Someone who comfortably coexists with this pattern may go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake at 1 p.m., read or work—in or out of the bed for one or two hours—then retire for a second time.

It’s not insomnia and anyone who thinks it’s unhealthy will be surprised to learn many of our ancestors slept this way until the 19th century.

Historians believe humans naturally evolved to sleep in blocks of time—not a straight eight hours. There are written descriptions dating back 3,000 years of this behavior; polyphasic sleep is even referred to in Homer’s Odyssey.

The “in between” time was considered sacred. People would use it for purposes as diverse as praying, visiting neighbors or enjoying a romantic interlude with their loved one.

Physicians in the 16th century even advised patients that the time between sleeping was ideal for conception, going as far as telling couples they, “would have more enjoyment” and “do it better” than other times of the day.

Today, one should carefully consider waking a mate at 1 a.m. with a whispered suggestion it was time to get “chummy”. But if they proceeded anyway, they might simply be displaying evolutionary behavior’s sleepy face.

Suffice to say, waking up in the middle of the night is not all that unnatural. If it works for you, enjoy. But given today’s work schedules, a more modern approach to beddy-bye may be in order.

Weighted blankets
Into this battle for dreamland comes riding yet another claim for achieving sleep nirvana: weighted gravity blankets. Never heard of them? They’ve actually been around for a while but mostly used by therapists and psychiatry clinics.

Today the blankets are going mainstream and are increasingly catching the attention of a sleepy workforce. Whether their benefits ultimately collapse in a heap as a passing fad or settled into an accepted and proven sleep solution, time will tell.

But for many current users, the jury is in and the verdict is, “These things work.”

In clinical settings, the blankets’ history revolves around their use in an occupational therapy called sensory integration. The treatment is employed to help deal with autism and similar disorders by focusing on sensory experiences.

Let’s listen in as one manufacturer describes its blanket:

“The weighted gravity blanket is filled with hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, odorless glass beads engineered to be around 10 to 15 percent of your body weight. The deep pressure from the weight causes the body to produce serotine and endorphins, improving mood and promoting restful sleep.

“It can help promote sleep by reducing anxiety, improving cognitive function, overcoming sensitivity to touch and pacifying obsessive-compulsive behavior. The blanket can help with sensory disorders, sleep insomnia, ADD/ADHD Spectrum Disorders, Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorders”.

Think of curling up in your mother’s loving arms as an infant. Huggly snuggly.

Some studies have shown the blankets do reduce anxiety, creating a safe and more comfortable feeling while sleeping. One study even demonstrated a drop in heart rates for dental patients having wisdom teeth removed.

And yet, like snake oil salesmen of yesteryear, one must be cautious when a single product promotes relief for multiple ailments.

But if the blankets work, they can achieve startling results without the use of drugs. Even some clinicians find the blankets have more up-value than many conventional sleep aids.

Proof in the snoozing
A quick review of Amazon’s verified customer reviews shows four to five-star ratings on most of the blankets for sale. Typical comments include observations such as:

“Feels really great on. I got the 20 lb. blanket and I weigh about 165. I love it.”

“After about a week of use, I feel like the blanket works incredibly well. I’ve been sleeping 8-9 hours a night, falling asleep faster and tossing and turning less.”

“I’m not a fan of being held too tight or being restrained but I must admit I love!”

“This blanket is amazing!”

Lullabyland does not come cheap. Be ready to bruise your credit card for $70 to $150, depending on the size and quality of the blanket purchased. But you may recover from sticker shock after a couple weeks of solid rest.

And if you do pull the trigger and are unhappy with your purchase, return policies for most in-store and online sales are accommodating. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

Except a good night’s rest.


Published in the February 20, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.      

Categories : HAGARTY TALES