Med thumb compressionwear main

When it comes to pajamas, comfortable usually means “loose," but I fall alseep most easily when I’m wearing yoga pants or some other type of binding clothing. And there’s a good explanation: Compression can help relieve anxiety.

The therapeutic value of deep pressure — a synthetic “hug,” so to speak — is by no means a new discovery. But, weighted blankets, long used in occupational therapy, have hit the mainstream sleep market. The anxious, rest-challenged masses are curling up under heavy bedspreads to quell their jitters and soothe themselves to sleep.

As a college student, Autism rights activist Temple Grandin invented the hug machine (aka hug or squeeze box), essentially a padded box that applied pressure evenly across her body. Grandin, herself on the Autism spectrum, drew on her own experience and observations of animal behavior to devise the contraption.

The anxious, rest-challenged masses are curling up under heavy bedspreads to quell their jitters and soothe themselves to sleep 

As a child, Grandin had craved the sensation of being squeezed, but recoiled when anyone hugged her. Hypersensitivity to touch and sound is a hallmark feature of Autism spectrum disorders. Grandin had also visited her aunt’s ranch and noticed that frantic cattle calmed down upon entering a restrictive chute that delivered them for inoculation. With the cattle in mind, Grandin devised a way to recoup the benefits of a squeeze without involving human touch. Later in her career, Grandin used her theory to develop humane slaughter methods.

cattle hug

Grandin’s work inspired therapeutic tools for anxiety relief in humans and animals. Thundershirts, essentially canine compression-wear, are popular for nervous and noise-phobic dogs. As someone whose dog takes medication for crippling anxiety, I can attest that the Thundershirt isn’t bullshit. My beloved mutt refuses to wear her rainboots but happily lifts a paw to let me strap her into the unflattering spandex vest. (See below.)

stella thundershirt

And, occupational therapists have used weighted blankets for at least 30 years to help relieve symptoms of mental and developmental disorders including PTSD and autism. Researchers have speculated that deep pressure stimulates mood-regulating neurotransmitters including serotonin. The leaden covers resemble bibs worn during dental x-rays. In one 2014 study, UK researchers assessed the value of weighted blankets for improving sleep in Autistic children, who often struggle with shuteye. Objectively, weighted blankets didn’t appear to do much. The children got roughly the same amount of sleep when they slept beneath weighted and airy blankets. But, both the kids and their parents reported a preference for dozing under heavy covers.

Now, people who can’t sleep, but don’t have any diagnosed disorder, are buying weighted blankets, too. As Maclean’s, a Canadian news site, reported, a handful of online weighted-blanket retailers, wringing every bit of marketing appeal out of the “hug” analogy, have seen an uptick in interest from consumers. 

"It is precisely that soothing “hug” sensation that a spate of online companies are selling," reported Maclean's. Among others, they reference Arizona's Weighted Blankets Plus, which has the motto "Best Hug Ever." Then there's HippoHug, a Canadian company that sells stress-relieving weighted pads.

From a medical perspective, weighted blankets violate a tenet of sleep hygiene: A cool core temperature promotes better sleep. Restrictive clothing (or, presumably, a hefty blanket) turns sleepers into radiators.

This hot-and-heavy conversation is another instance of physiology and psychology butting heads. Sleep issues can surface when we fight natural biological processes, a perfect example being the way late-night blue-light use can screw with circadian rhythms. However, mental agitation can also impede slumber, especially among vulnerable populations, such as young women, for whom sleep disorders and anxiety commonly go hand-in-hand.

Here's hoping that Lululemon releases a line of compression pajamas, for the two-legged and four-legged alike.