Ever asked yourself the question, what is a weighted blanket for?
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.
Here’s a short video from Mosaic Weighted Blankets on weighted blankets and how they may benefit sleep.
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, such as the Harka Minky Dot, 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’ behaviour 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.
Want to know more about the benefits of a weighted blanket? Read more here.
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.
Here’s a Recommended Weight Chart from Mosaic Weighted Blankets, which helps you choose the right sized weighted blanket based on an individual’s own unique needs.
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.
Harkla suggest an appropriate weighted blanket may be used for toddlers from the age of 2, but others suggest waiting until a child is around 6 0r 7. So always check with a healthcare professional before making a decision, based upon your child’s own unique needs.
What Is a Weighted Blanket For?: Closing Thoughts
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?