In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know – including how weighted blankets may benefit children and adults with a range of disorders – from sleeping problems and anxiety to autism and ADHD.
1 – WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET & HOW DOES IT WORK?
As the name suggests, a weighted blanket is a blanket that is heavier than your standard blanket. The weight and size of the blanket varies depending on the intended user.
The extra weight usually comes in the form of small plastic pellets, or glass beads, which are distributed across the blanket to apply a gentle pressure on the body of the child, or person, using it.
This gentle pressure provides something called deep touch stimulation (DTP), which encourages the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
In tandem with melatonin, these chemicals naturally induce a calming effect on the body, helping to sooth the nervous system and encourage restful sleep.
Similar to a high or gentle massage, the light touch from a weighted blanket is also thought to releases the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin, which helps reduce blood pressure and provide a feeling of calm and relaxation.
2 – WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR?
Weighted blankets were originally developed as an aid for some of the anxiety tendencies associated with autism.
However, weighted blankets have been gaining in popularity of late, as an alternative way to help both autism and a wider range of disorders, including:
- anxiety and stress
- sleeping difficulties
- symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD.
3 – A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR ANXIETY
If you’ve ever felt anxious, you’ll know how hard it can be to relax.
Stress and anxiety cause something called cortisol to increase in the body. Often called the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol stimulates the nervous system and can lead to a range of symptoms, including muscle tension, headaches and difficulty relaxing.
This is where a weighted blanket may help, since the deep touch pressure stimulation (DTP) of the blanket helps to both reduce cortisol and encourage the brain to produce serotonin; a natural mood enhancer. Serotonin also naturally converts to melatonin, which helps your body and nerve activity to relax in proportion for sleep.
In a way, its very similar to swaddling a baby, which mimics the feeling of comfort associated with the mother’s womb and helps a newborn feel relaxed, safe and sleepy.
4 – A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR INSOMNIA
Many sleeping disorders are thought to be associated with low serotonin & melatonin levels.
And as we’ve seen, the gentle pressure of a weighted blanket may help calm excess activity in the nervous system through stimulating the natural release of serotonin, a hormone which helps regulate our sleep wake cycles and internal clocks.
Serotonin also naturally converts to the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin, which naturally tells our body when it’s time to get ready sleep in line with the natural decline in daylight around dusk.
In terms of empirical evidence to back up the claims, a 2015 from the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders found that a weighted blanket did, in fact, help those with insomnia sleep better.
Weighted blankets may also reduce tossing and turning at night; simply as a result of the extra pressure upon the body.
5 – A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR KIDS (& ADULTS) WITH AUTISM
Children with autism are often naturally low in serotonin and melatonin. This can lead to anxiety and sleeping issues.
The gentle pressure of a weighted weighted blanket may help support the body to naturally release these hormones, often aiding symptoms of high anxiety and sleep deprivation in autistic children.
A weighted blanket, vest or lap pad may also help autistic children with attention deficits to transition better from a high energy activity to a low energy one.
Many autistic children also have sensory processing difficulties, so using a weighted blanket, also offers additional sensory input in the form of raised tactile dots.
6 – A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR KIDS (& ADULTS) WITH ADHD
Many kids with ADHD have trouble calming themselves down and sleeping. As a result, they often resist bedtime. This can lead to sleep deprivation and higher rates of daytime sleepiness, which can lead to hyperactivity and difficulties focusing during the day.
Through applying gentle pressure, weighted blankets may help kids with ADHD release the calming hormone serotonin, as well as the sleep inducing hormone melatonin, thereby helping to reduce hyperactivity and aid sleep. Melatonin has, in fact, been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for initial insomnia in children with ADHD.
Children with ADHD also often struggle to focus in a classroom environment. This study suggests that the use of weighted vests and lap pads may increase ‘on-task’ behavior in children with attention deficits, by up to 18%.
Weighted blankets and vests have also been used in classroom environments to help children transition better from a high energy activity, to a quieter, low energy one.
7 – WHAT’S THE ‘WEIGHT’ IN A WEIGHTED BLANKET?
Generally, the traditional filling in a weighted blanket is formed of plastic poly pellets. A bit like tiny pebbles, you can’t really feel the actual shape of the pellets unless you’re highly sensitive to touch.
As an alternative to plastic, glass beads are also sometimes used and these have a texture more like sand or fine sugar. Glass beads are denser than the pellets and highly sensitive people may find they lay slightly softer on the body.
If you want to try your hand at making your own DIY weighted blanket, it’s also possible to use rice, or even barley, for the weighted element of the blanket. Keep in mind, though, this will make the blanket non washable.
8 – WHAT ARE WEIGHTED BLANKETS MADE OF?
Weighted blankets are generally made of a plush material, such as minky dot or fleece, or a more breathable fabric such as 100% cotton.
Which fabric you choose for your weighted blanket essentially comes down to personal choice. But as a loose guide, if you’re prone to getting too hot (think menopause for example!), a plush fabric could feel way too heating. Opting for a more breathable 100% cotton option in these circumstances may well suit you better.
On the other hand, if you are prone to feeling chilly or cold, as many older people are, a plush fabric might be a better choice.
9 – HOW HEAVY SHOULD A WEIGHTED BLANKET BE?
As a general guide, healthcare providers recommend that a weighted blanket be 10% of a child’s body weight, plus 1 or 2 pounds. For adults, 10% of the ideal body weight is usually recommended.
You don’t need to be 100% ‘exact’ – a pound heavier or lighter than the guidelines won’t make much difference, but keep in mind 10% of an adult ideal body weight can start to feel quite heavy, so always consult your healthcare provider, or licensed therapist, if you’re unclear on the weight that’s right for you.
10 – WHAT’S THE RESEARCH ON WEIGHTED BLANKETS?
The underlying science behind weighted blankets is deep pressure stimulation, or DTP for short.
How does this work?
Put simply, through applying gentle pressure to the body, a weighted blanket stimulates the brain to release chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. These naturally improve mood and the body’s sense of calm.
Serotonin also helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and naturally converts to melatonin, a chemical which helps the body get sleepy, as natural daylight fades.
In terms of actual studies on weighted blankets, empirical evidence is still quite limited. Some research, however, does exist. Here are 5 studies on weighted blankets to get you started, including some additional research studies on weighted vests.
10 – CAN BABIES USE A WEIGHTED BLANKET?
Most parents have likely experienced sleepless nights at the hands of their baby. It’s a natural part of parenting. Some babies simply don’t sleep through the night!
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this has led some parents to ask whether weighted blankets are suitable for babies.
The answer is a definite NO. Babies simply can’t move their bodies or regulate their breathing and internal temperatures in the same way as older children and adults. So using a weighted blanket poses a number of serious safety hazards for babies, including overheating and suffocation.
WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET FOR?
Weighted blankets are used by many children and adults alike, as an aid to sleep and relaxation.
Initially designed as a sensory aid for autistic children, the use of weighted blankets has fast increased in popularity as a way to help a much wider range of stress related and sleeping issues, as well as disorders such as ADHD or even restless leg syndrome.
So if you have a sleeping issue, suffer from anxiety or are looking for practical, drug-free option to help your autistic child sleep or focus better, why not give a weighted blanket a try?
What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Weighted Blanket
You may have heard about the benefits of weighted blankets from an occupational therapist or another parent or even a post on this blog. If you’ve never actually seen or owned one, though, you may have some questions about what exactly a weighted blanket is and what you should look for when buying one.
What Should You Look For When Buying a Weighted Blanket?
The main things that vary between different weighted blankets on the market are type of fabric and what is used to weigh down the blankets.
When it comes to fabric, it’s really up to your preference. Some blankets are made with soft cotton, while others are made with a minky dotted fabric. When looking at reviews of blankets, make sure to look at what people say about the fabric. Especially if you are buying the blanket for someone who has sensory issues, the type of fabric can make or break the experience.
As for weighing down the blankets, most companies at this point use very safe materials for the weight. Often you’ll see poly-pellets, glass beads, or steel shot beads. You can even find blankets that use rice or barley to weigh them down.
Another factor you’ll want to look for is how the blanket maintains an even distribution of weight. If the beads are allowed to move throughout the blanket, all the weight can end up at one side. This is typically solved through stitching pockets into the blankets and distributing the weight evenly in those pockets.
The last thing to look for is if the blanket is machine washable or not. Because blankets can vary in what fabric they use and what weights they use, you’ll want to check with the seller to see if their blankets can be washed at home or need to be taken to a dry cleaner.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets
There are many research-backed benefits of weighted blankets, including improved sleep, greater focus in the classroom, reduction of self-stimulatory behaviors, and easing of anxiety. As weighted blankets become more popular, more and more people are using them simply as a way to wind down from typical day-to-day stress and to help improve sleep.How can you get those benefits for your child? There are many companies that sell weighted blankets online. Your child’s occupational therapist may have catalogs you can order from as well; while you’re at it, seek the therapist’s advice as to whether a weighted blanket is a good choice for your child and how much weight would be appropriate. If you’re crafty, you may even be able to make a blanket using an online tutorial.