The popularity of weighted blankets shows how much people love calming deep pressure. Everyone is catching on to what those with sensory challenges related to anxiety, autism, ADHD, or just sensory sensitivity have known for a long time.
The pressure from a hug, weighted blanket, or compression clothing not only feels good. It helps to reduce anxiety and overactivity.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get that calming effect all the time? Well it's possible with your clothing.
In fact, deep pressure clothing can be a powerful part of a sensory program during everyday activities. For this reason, clothing using deep pressure gets chosen a lot when it comes to addressing sensory and behavioral challenges.
But how do you know what to choose? While weighted vests and compression clothing work in similar ways, they aren’t completely the same. Let’s take a closer look so you get a better idea of the characteristics of each.
How are weighted vests and compression shirts the same?
Both weighted vests and compression shirts work by activating the proprioceptive system through deep pressure. The proprioceptive system provides information about the body based on the sensation of pressure in joints and muscles. So it keeps track of the amount of force through the knees when you jump or feels the comfortable sensation of a big hug.
An amazing extra feature of the proprioceptive system is the connection with the body’s calming system – parasympathetic nervous system. Think of this like a secret trap door to relaxing the body and mind.
It’s why a big hug feels so good and why babies relax when swaddled. The deep pressure sends your brain a message of safety and calm. In fact, deep pressure from weighted blankets was even shown to reduce anxiety in adults.
With this extra sensory input from deep pressure, children, teens and adults who struggle with overactivity in the nervous system don’t need to work so hard to focus or sit still.
So quick recap, deep pressure increases:
- Calm in the body and mind
- Focus for classroom and home tasks
- Body awareness to feel secure while sitting or moving
- Helps the brain know where the body is in space
- Activates the calming function of the parasympathetic nervous system
- Releases hormones that improve focus and regulation
It’s no wonder there is a growing interest in clothing that incorporates deep pressure to support those who have sensory processing disorder.
A Closer Look at Weighted Vests
A weighted vest is a vest that can be put on over clothing. Weight is then added or subtracted from the vest based on the needs of each person. These vests work by putting pressure on the sensory receptors in the muscles and joints.
A vest is great because of adjustability in terms of weight and wear time. Meaning a vest can be added to increase focus for a table top activity and then removed before gym class.
Guidelines for vest wear range from 15 minutes to an hour. The general idea is that a vest should not be worn all day long due to fatigue. So it’s recommended a vest be worn during activities needing the most focus and then taken off between activities.
However, it’s an extra step to take off or put on a vest. Plus, a vest worn overtop of clothing might draw potentially unwanted attention from peers.
Weighted vests are worth a try for children or teens. These vests can help them focus while sitting in the classroom, taking a test, or working on homework. If instead you're looking for a long-term wearable option, let's look at compression shirts.
Compression Shirts Explained
Compression wear is clothing that’s designed to fit tightly using specially designed fabric. Rather than activating pressure receptors using weight – compression shirts are made of fabric designed to provide downward force through an elastic squeeze.
Why people like compression shirts:
- They can be worn under clothing so don’t draw attention
- They provide consistent pressure across the body
- They can be worn for long periods of time and during activity
- They do not restrict movement.
Since compression shirts are worn next to skin, fabric selection is important. With good fabric, you eliminate complaints associated with feeling too hot or clothing texture.
Additionally, compression shirts provide a uniform amount of pressure across the body. This uniformity is a great way to help regulate the nervous system. In fact, a 2020 study found that compression shirts improved postural awareness and decreased disruptive behaviors for those with autism.
If you or a person you know loves big hugs and snug clothing like swimsuits, compression shirts might be your new favorite clothing item. Or, if you might want to consider a compression shirt if your child or teen says they feel self-conscious about wearing a weighted vest.
Final Verdict: Weighted Vest Versus Compression Shirt
What’s really exciting is the opportunity to optimize the nervous system through clothing.
As you can see, deep pressure offers a wide range of potential benefits, especially for those with sensory processing challenges.
Sensory clothing such as a weighted vest or compression shirt can make a big difference in daily life, especially when you find the option that best fits your needs. It’s the easy, wearable solution that actually proactively helps the sensory system work better.
And just a quick side note, this information isn’t medical advice. If you have questions, you should definitely contact al trained professional in sensory processing such as an occupational therapist.