Relationships, Sleep & Weighted Blankets ... What's the Connection?

“Just don’t touch me when we’re sleeping!” were the words I could not believe I heard as a newlywed. I couldn’t believe my ears! It was one of the things I was most looking forward to in marriage.

When I spent summers with my Mamaw as a little girl, she would cuddle me all night long, and it was so very comforting. And when my dad worked away, out of the country, I would sleep with my sweet Mother and she would cuddle me in much the same way. And now my big chance to be cuddled and snuggled up to for the rest of my life was gone! I know that sounds dramatic…  but when it was once your life dream, it is so disappointing!

I finally learned to sleep on my side, crossing my upper arm across my body and tucking my fingers in between the mattress and box springs, to keep myself on my side of the bed … to avoid being shoved back to my side of like a ragdoll.

Recently a friend of mine texted me about a wonderful vacation with children, and a pretty dramatic drive home in blizzard and hail storms. After describing the wonder of the week, the summary was “yet I feel so sad and lonely.” It reminded me of those early days of my marriage.

Shortly after, a client sent me an email explaining how difficult becoming single was. But it said, “It’s worse at night. I’m anxious, a depressed, and I can’t seem to sleep well.”

That same day, another client came in and told me that they could manage their anxiety fairly well during the day, but at night It’s seemed to return with a vengeance.

Perhaps it was because it all happened in succession that it triggered me reading some research about weighted blankets. I had read several research articles, but one specific project got my attention.

I had known for quite some time that weighted blankets were effective with autistic children. The weight is distributed by sewing small pellets of glass, plastic rubber into little pockets, creating an even weight. But I knew nothing beyond that until I read the research article.

I love my weighted blanket, and it really does give
the sense of being gently cuddled or snuggled!

Interestingly enough, in an article published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders revealed that because of the cuddling effect of the little pellets in the blanket, it helped many people sleep better.

But it also showed that it was helpful with anxiety, ADHD, osteoarthritis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, processing disorders and mood.

After the comments from friends and clients, I went back and studied the research even closer.

Because of what it had to say about the “cuddling effect“ I decided to make the plunge and order my own 15# weighted blanket immediately. Because I’m not one who experiences the “placebo effect“ (a beneficial effect produced by a drug or treatment that cannot be attributed to the properties of the drug or treatment, and therefore, must be due to the patient’s belief in the treatment), I did not truly expect to see much in the way of results.

So much so that I neglected to put it on my bed for over a week.

I finally decided I should put it on my bed before I lost my window to return it. I was truly astonished by the difference in my sleep. It was clearly not just something “in my head” because my Fitbit device that measures my sleep and sleep quality, showed a dramatic increase in sleep and quality.

Then that took me down another research trail, because one of my new self-care objectives has been to increase the amount and quality of sleep that I get. I made that decision based on some research I read about the quality of our life as it relates to the quality of our sleep.

I pulled up that research again and found that lack of sleep can truly impact our health, our mental health, and the manner and mood in which we operate daily.

Here are some of the common side effects of lack of an adequate sleep:

  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor decision making
  • Weight gain
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Bone loss
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Decreased alertness
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased judgment
  • Impaired problem solving
  • Poor reasoning

As I was reading the list, I began to realize how many of those things listed could have a major impact on relationships. There is no debate that inadequate sleep leaves us not at our best.

Then I actually began to think about this past year of my life. I had so many changes to adjust to, and major things to deal with that it definitely stole from my sleep time. I am certain that I was not at my best. How that affected my relationships has been something I am examining and making amends around!

I know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called “sleep deprivation a public health epidemic.” I would add that perhaps it has also been a factor in the epidemically increasing numbers of divorce, domestic violence and break ups.

So how can sleep effect relationships? Here is what research says:

  • Gratitude declines. Dr. Gordon at UC Berkeley found: “Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s.” It creates an “all about me” scenario. We are so busy scrambling to take care of ourselves that we neglect to notice positive input from our partner. Therefore, gratitude, one of the key hallmarks of healthy relationships, declines dramatically.
  • Impulsivity increases. Dr. Pilcher of Clemson University found that “sleep deprivation decreases self-control and increases hostility in people, which can create problems at home.” But lack of control and hostility are relationships cancers, eating away at connection and intimacy.
  • Libido vanishes.  Many studies find a direct correlation between being deprived of adequate sleep and testosterone levels being lowered. However further studies say that ongoing sleep deprivation can also lead to sexual dysfunction.
  • Hostility peaks. Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser at Ohio State Institute for Behavior Medicine Research reported: “When people sleep less, it’s a little like looking at the world through dark glasses. Their moods are poorer. They are grumpier. All of this hurts the relationship.” In peaks of hostility, we are likely to speak harshly to one another, call names, and say things we will likely regret (which can never be erased).
  • Oxytocin plummets. Dr. Blagrove of Britain (Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal) found that when we are deprived of adequate REM sleep, our body’s production of oxytocin (the “feel good” neurohormone) plummets. What does that mean to relationships? We are just not “feeling it” for our partner, and therefore, we tend to stop all of the loving and caring behaviors that make relationships rich.

Mix all of that cocktail together, and you have the potential for serious relationship problems, especially if the deprivation of sleep continues over a long period of time.

Perhaps the combination of a weighted blanket to improve the quality of our sleep could be a gift to our relationships.

It is crucial that we get adequate sleep in order to be at our best. There is no question about that. We would likely be better in our roles at work or in our businesses, in our roles as parents, in our roles as friends and family members. But will we make the efforts to be at our best in relationships by getting adequate sleep? My hope for you is that you will take care of your health and mental health by getting good sleep. But also do it for the sake of your relationships.

Because of that, I have now become just as devoted to adequate sleep as I have been devoted to achieving my 15,000 steps a day for many years. We deserve to be at our best, our partners deserve to have us at our best, our family and friends deserve to have us at our best! Our best comes with adequate sleep. And if a weighted blanket helps … why not?