Before we examine whether weighted blankets for children are any good, how about we cover a few guidelines for safely using a weighted blanket.
Please be advised that weighted blankets are not recommended for children under the age of 2 years old. So, when we refer to toddlers in this article, we are referring to children ages 2-3 years old.
Keeping this in mind, be sure to use a safe weight. Since the average weight of toddlers between the ages of 2-3 years old is 20-30 pounds, the recommended weight (10% of body weight plus 1-2 pounds) would be no more than 6 pounds.
TODDLERS AND SLEEPING ISSUES
Numerous toddlers battle with sleep, which implies that their parents unavoidably do, as well. Sleeping issues are a common topic in social circles, parent support groups, with family, and the pediatrician.
Some toddlers are "good sleepers" and others seem like they have never learned to sleep. Even when you think you've got your child figured out, some seem to change their sleep patterns overnight, without explanation. Sleep is one of those basic human needs and it affects the whole family.
You would do anything to catch some extra minutes of sleep! Many parents are purchasing weighted blankets to help their toddlers sleep better during nap time and at night.
WHAT IS A WEIGHTED BLANKET?
Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like – a blanket with some additional weight to it, typically 10% of the user’s body weight plus one pound. They are sized for the user (toddler, child, adult) and often made of soft material for added tactile input, and sometimes in customizable colors and patterns. Weighted blankets are filled with different materials depending on the manufacturer – some with food grade poly pellets, glass beads, metal, rice or barley. Some weighted blankets come with covers for easy washing.purple weighted blanket
Historically, weighted blankets were designed as a deep pressure input technique to help individuals with special needs. They have often been recommended by occupational therapists for patients receiving treatment - children on the autism spectrum, attention diagnoses, and sensory processing disorders.
Now, weighted blankets are available for purchase by the general public; through the internet, at specialty stores and even craft fairs; as well as DIY tutorials on how to make your own weighted blanket on Pinterest.
CAN A WEIGHTED BLANKET HELP YOUR TODDLER?
It’s certainly an easy decision to want to try one, as long as you are educated about its use. As compared to other sleeping tools/aids/protocols, they aren’t prescribed by a doctor, don’t involve medication with potential side effects, or come with a detailed behavioral plan that is hard to carry out. Most children welcome the idea of trying something new, especially something soft and pleasing that they helped to pick out themselves.
But are they effective? How do you know if using a weighted blanket for toddlers will work? The therapy community stands behind them. Most parents who start using a weighted blanket have found it to make a positive difference in their child's sleep cycle.
Is approval by another parent enough to try a weighted blanket for your own toddler? While it is difficult to find a specific study to answer this question, there are several pieces of research that can help put together pieces of this puzzle.
WHO NEEDS A WEIGHTED SLEEPING BLANKET?
Weighted blankets especially benefit those suffering from anxiety or insomnia. They are particularly helpful for children on the autism spectrum, who crave touch and pressure but are unable to tolerate typical physical touch from loved ones.
These children become sensory-seeking because, although they need stimulation, they cannot endure hugs and squeezes that neurotypical kids enjoy. Temple Grandin, a noted animal expert, and advocate for those on the autism spectrum (and autistic herself) recalls the sensation of being touched as a child:
Temple went on to complete a study of a device she built, called the “Squeeze Machine,” which exerted deep touch pressure to users. The study found that deep touch pressure benefited children with autism and ADHD by calming them. It also reduced self-injuring and stimulatory behaviors.
Studies have also found that babies, especially those born prematurely, benefit from deep touch pressure. As for the calming effects of a weighted blanket for sleep, Temple reports: “A high functioning autistic woman stated, ‘I need heavy blankets on me to sleep well, or else my muscles won’t calm down.'
Weighted blankets provide the calming touch those on the spectrum need, in a way they can receive it.
CAN WEIGHTED BLANKETS BENEFIT NEUROTYPICAL CHILDREN?
While it may seem that weighted blankets are clearly a help for children on the spectrum who need the calming effect of the weights, weighted blankets can benefit all children.
Parents have reported that, despite the blankets being originally designed to benefit children on the autism spectrum and with sensory processing disorder, their children without such a diagnosis have experienced extraordinary benefits from using a weighted blanket, primarily in the form of better sleep.
A writer for Forbes Magazine reports: "When word got out among parent friends at my son's school that weighted blankets were turning moody 10-year-olds into well-rested angels, everyone started tucking in." He goes on to say his 10-year-old son began sleeping more soundly and waking up happier and more focused after regularly using a weighted blanket, and those other parents reported similar results.
HOW TO FIND THE BEST WEIGHTED BLANKET
Weighted blankets have become common enough that you can find them easily online.
What to look for:
- Choose a fabric your child will enjoy; many weighted blankets are made from a soft mink or fleece material.
- Pay attention to weight; blankets should typically weigh between 5-10% of your child’s body weight plus 1 or 2 additional pounds, though suggestions vary.
- Choose a blanket size that will work for your child; sizes can range from a small lap blanket to ones large enough to cover a bed.
THE SCIENCE BACKS UP WEIGHTED BLANKET BENEFITS
One study found positive results for sleeping patterns in young children with and without developmental disabilities when they used a weighted blanket. Another examined the use of weighted blankets for sleep in autistic children specifically, and again there were positive results. Others provide research to support the use of weighted vests with children on the autism spectrum – which is another form of that deep pressure input that a weighted blanket can provide.
When considering the conclusions of each research study, signs point to weighted blankets being effective. Effective for different types of children, effective for different ages of children, which one can assume will be effective for toddlers.
Research studies examining weighted blankets for toddlers revealed several conclusions that are helpful to parents considering using one. With weighted blankets being a deep pressure input technique, it is proven to lower anxiety in the user. While we hope that toddlers don’t have real anxieties that prevent them from sleeping, we know that pressure input is calming. Establishing a calming bedtime routine is important for any child who is about to enter sleep.
Another measured outcome of using a weighted blanket involves lowering EDA – electrodermal activity. EDA is used in medicine and research – its measurement property in the skin, completely unconscious in the individual. EDA is driven by the sympathetic nervous system which is in charge of behavioral, emotional and cognitive states.
Lowered EDA indicates less stirring and lower extraneous movement throughout a sleep cycle – this means better or deeper sleep for an individual. Weighted blankets can deliver constant input throughout the night, and can help in between sleep cycles, or when a child might awaken. Keeping EDA lower can help keep a child asleep.
One common conclusion that many studies about toddler weighted blankets have made is about tolerance. Children tended to tolerate a weighted blanket better than other modes of input and chose a weighted blanket more often than other sleep supports available. As compared to other sleep-related strategies or treatments, a weighted blanket was considered a preferred modality.
As many parents know, toddler buy-in is important. Knowing that a weighted blanket might be “toddler approved” is crucial in making the decision to integrate it into a sleep routine.
While there isn't any specific research to support weighted blanket use explicitly for toddlers, there is enough information to recommend them to be effective for many youngsters with and without disabilities.
They are widely available to parents and often toddler approved. Many other families and the pediatric therapy community will recommend them for trial. Remember that they don’t have to be used solely for sleep – snuggle time with books, use as part of a wind-down routine before bed – the possibilities are endless.
So, if you’re considering using a weighted blanket to help your toddler sleep better, make sure that you understand the formula to select the correct size and weight. For your own purposes, keep track of how long it takes for your child to enter sleep, and if they wake in between sleep cycles – it will help you measure whether or not it's making a difference. Hopefully, you too will get some extra sleep!