Weighted blankets are hot right now, but they’ve actually been around for quite a while. The very first weighted blanket, the Magic Weighted Blanket, was invented by Keith Zivalich in 1998.
Zivalich was driving with his family, on holiday, and, from the back seat, one of his young daughters put her Beanie Baby on his shoulder. Something amazing happened: he felt calm, immediately. Really calm. So calm that he wondered how he could transfer that same feeling to the entire body. Being an inventor, he figured it out, and that’s how weighted blankets were born.
Magic Weighted Blankets are made in the USA; filled with BPA-free, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic pellets (versus the small glass beads that can find their way out of the blankets and into your pets or children’s mouths). They are also machine washable and dryer friendly. And for every 10 blankets they sell, Zivalich donates one to a veteran with PTSD. Here’s the story.
RB: How did this originate?
KZ: In 1997, I was driving on a family vacation and my daughter, about 10 at the time, put a Beanie Baby named “Pugsly” on my shoulder to keep me company while I drove. I noticed how the weight of the stuffed animal made it hug my shoulder. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a blanket filled with these same ‘beanies?’ It would be the blanket that hugs you back.”
My wife made a prototype and I showed it to our neighbors who had small children. They all looked at it, kind of perplexed, and said they probably wouldn’t use this on their kids. I had also shown it to a family friend who was a special needs teacher. She took it to her class and used it with her students. That night she told me that she needed more. Lots more.
Not only was no one talking about weighted blankets at the time, no one had ever heard of a “weighted blanket.” I then searched for and finally found a company willing to make blankets for us. With six or so professionally made “Bean Blankets” in hand, I set up a small table at a local swap meet. There was lots of interest, but none were sold. Undaunted, I taught myself basic HTML skills and made our first ecommerce site. Next, I made small signs that I could place on the off-ramps of freeways near my home that read, “Need a hug?” That led to sale of my second blanket, and the start of my e-commerce entrepreneurship.
How does it help you sleep, physically and emotionally?
KZ: The weight of the blanket on the body creates a physiological reaction, similar to when a newborn baby is swaddled. This “compression” has a naturally calming effect, and is why our special needs teacher would often tightly hug her students to calm them down. Many of her students were Autistic and/or had Sensory Processing Disorder. These children often could not feel their own bodies in space, which caused them to be constantly on the move. This movement helped them to “feel” their body, but it was also disruptive and a detriment to learning and socializing.
Known as Proprioceptive Input, the weight of the blanket helped send a signal to their brain letting them know that they could now feel their bodies when under the heavy blanket. This helped them to stop fidgeting and to relax. The feeling of being hugged is pleasant to everybody, not just those with special needs. When people (especially those with feelings of anxiety) get under a weighted blanket, the chemical called serotonin is released in the body. This neurotransmitter creates a feeling of well-being and happiness. It’s why so many people actually enjoy the lead vest as the dentist. It’s why a hug feels good. And it’s this feeling that helps to calm the mind and body and promotes deeper sleep.
Research shows that deep pressure therapy (DPT)—the principle that weighted blankets are designed around—stimulates a cycle of reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) increasing the production of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that affects mood, digestion and sleep) and eventually melatonin (which is called the sleep hormone).
According to Applied Behavior Analysis Edu.org—an independent online resource for applied behavior analysts, “When you apply deep pressure to the body, the body switches from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. This is the so-called switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest.’ When the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, your heart rate slows, muscles relax, and circulation improves. Your body produces endorphins, which are the “happy” hormones that make you feel amazing after a good run.
As deep pressure is applied to the body, the parasympathetic nervous system comes online, calming you and bringing a sense of well-being. In tandem with this change comes a release of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitters of the brain. These hormones help with motivation, impulse control, attention, memory, social behavior, sleep, and digestion.
Results of a study published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association, showed that participants undergoing wisdom tooth removal (which researchers identified as one of the most stressful medical procedures) who wore weighted blankets during the procedure had more activity in the part of the nervous system that is in control during times of low stress.
What's unique about your weighted blankets?
KZ: They’re made in Los Angeles, CA by highly trained and skilled machine operators. Most new weighted blankets on the market that are mass produced in China have removable duvet covers. After a few twists and turns in the washer and dryer, zippers often become misaligned and jammed.
We design one-piece blankets with a duvet cover securely sewn onto the inner liner, making them more durable & easier to wash and use than blankets with removable covers. Many of the competitors require the inner liner to be removed and hand washed.
There are no zippers that will tear, no ties that will break, no inner liner that will bunch up, no cover to attach.
Only 100 percent new, BPA-free, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic polypropylene pellets are used inside the blankets. There’s no polyfill, which makes the blanket feel warm and stiff: no Glass Beads which are the size and appearance of sugar grains and can work their way through seams, endangering pets and children.
Most weighted blankets coming from China are only 72 inches long. This is too short for most men and some women as weighted blankets tend to work their way up, leaving the feet exposed.