A woman smiling lying with her dog while the dog licks her face

Deep Pressure Therapy: How My Service Dog Shortens My Sleep Attacks

It is 10:00 in the morning and I’m having my first sleep attack of the day.

My vision blurs and the room sways in a rhythmic dance between consciousness and dreaming. My head is swimming and I grip my laundry basket tighter without realizing it as I fight to stay awake. It is a losing battle.

A sleep attack alert from my service dog

My service dog, Kida, notices my change in behavior and alerts to me that I am about to have a sleep attack. She is often able to notify me of an oncoming sleep attack before it begins, but today is a bit different.

I gently drop my laundry basket and lower myself to the ground. Before I know what is happening, my 75 pound German Shepherd is plopping her furry booty in my lap. She adjusts herself, strategically placing pressure with her legs and paws on my pulse points.

Kida finds my pulse points with ease

It surprises me every time that she is so skillful in finding the placement of my major arteries. I remind myself that she is a carnivore and the ability to find pulse points is a result of her finely tuned hunting instincts. It is comical to me that the same characteristics that made her wolfish ancestors impressive hunters are the characteristics that allow her to function impeccably as my service dog.

I am knee-deep in dreamlike thoughts, and after a few minutes, I feel myself slowly coming back to reality. The pressure in my head is lessened significantly. I tell Kida, “Good girl. Pressure!”

I am rewarded with a giant doggy grin, and Kida is rewarded with a treat.

Kida has applied deep pressure therapy

In this instance, my service dog is utilizing a tool called deep pressure therapy to shorten the length of my sleep attack. Deep pressure therapy is proven to function as a physiological switch to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity and promote an enhancement of parasympathetic nervous system activity. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for a fight or flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a calm state.1

Deep pressure therapy can be administered in many ways, including weighted blankets, devices that provide “hugging” pressure, and of course, with larger service dogs. Studies have shown that using deep pressure therapy can even help treat the sensory processing challenges present in anxiety disorders and those on the autism spectrum.1

How deep pressure therapy makes me feel

Thus, while being treated with deep pressure therapy, I am almost immediately restored to a sense of calm.

While it does not completely halt my sleep attacks in their tracks, it usually shortens their duration. This allows me to recover faster after an attack and continue my daily tasks.

Decreased stress could also be a factor

I am unsure what exactly causes the decrease in my symptoms after being treated with deep pressure therapy. Stress is known to make narcolepsy symptoms worse in many people. Perhaps a decrease in stress due to deep pressure therapy improves my symptoms.

Maybe it is not the decrease in stress but rather the innate physiological effects of deep pressure therapy that improve my symptoms. Until more research is conducted on the matter, I can’t know for sure. But what I do know is that it works for me!

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