Weighted blankets have grown in popularity over the past several years. Many people view them as a fad and others may be confused how they could possibly work in the way that labels claim they do. Not only do weighted blankets offer a range of benefits for people of all ages (including children), but there is scientific evidence behind their effectiveness and the mechanisms at work. Before you decide whether a weighted blanket is the right choice for your child, you first need to know what they are, the bodily functions they assist with, and how to safely use them to address certain behaviors.
What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets are exactly what you might assume they are: blankets with added weight. These blankets are usually filled with beads or pellets and vary in size, with some as light as 5 pounds and other knit weighted blankets weighing up to 30 pounds.
How were they initially used?
Weighted blankets can easily be used within the home, but they were once exclusively used in therapeutic settings. Initially, they were most often part of sensory integration therapy provided by healthcare workers such as occupational therapists. Therapists would use this as a treatment tool to calm individuals with high levels of anxiety or sensitivity to their surroundings. For this reason, these blankets were often used on patients with behavioral health concerns such as dementia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As you can see, the mechanism behind weighted blankets is effective for individuals both young and old.
What do weighted blankets do?
Weighted blankets offer what is clinically referred to as deep pressure. In a general sense, deep pressure stimulation is meant to encourage some feelings of relaxation. However, when deep pressure is provided over large areas of the body — as it is with a weighted blanket — it increases someone’s body awareness and boosts levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
How can weighted blankets help with body awareness?
Poor body awareness may arise for a range of reasons, but this usually stems from unbalanced sensory systems. Our sensory systems (in particular, the ones that control muscles, joints, and body positioning) constantly process all kinds of information from the world around us. Some people’s brains have trouble comprehending this information, which is called having a sensitivity to a certain type of sensory input. These people are more likely to get overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, clumsy, and even aggressive. When someone has difficulty processing input such as body awareness, they may not seem sensitive to anything in particular. This often leaves parents wondering how to best help their child who is anxious for what seems like no reason.
Why should children use a weighted blanket?
While people of all ages can benefit from weighted blankets, most children especially enjoy them. Children most commonly use weighted blankets as a result of sensory issues that may be related to conditions such as sensory processing disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and more. However, weighted blankets can also help anxious children. Regardless of the behaviors your child exhibits or the condition they are diagnosed with, children who regularly use a weighted blanket experience:
- Improved focus
- Enhanced sleep
- Less anxiety
The good news about weighted blankets is that your child doesn’t need to carry a diagnosis or any behavioral concerns to benefit from them. Most children, whether they have special needs or not, find that the sensory input such blankets provide is enjoyable and gives them comfort.
Weighted blankets for kids’ anxiety
Kids typically show their anxiety in different ways than adults do. An anxious child may:
- Cry often
- Have a poor appetite
- Cling to their parents
- Struggle to sleep well or consistently through the night
- Refuse to talk
- Chew on their hair, clothes, pencils, and toys
- Suck on their thumb
- Fidget often: toe tapping, wiggling, playing with clothes or hair
- Appear withdrawn from others
Children with ongoing anxiety can certainly benefit from the use of a weighted blanket since these blankets work to calm the nervous system. The widespread pressure that weighted blankets provide engages the restful part of the nervous system, rather than the active one that prompts a fear-based response known as fight-or-flight. The rest-inducing part of the nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system) regulates the body’s vital signs. So, in short, kids who use a weighted blanket may experience a decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, and less rapid or intense breathing.
Weighted blankets for children with sensory processing disorder
We mentioned earlier how weighted blankets help balance the body’s sensory systems and provide more body awareness. Kids who demonstrate many sensory sensitivities across several categories may be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD). Children with SPD may be triggered by any of the following:
- Visual input, such as bright colors or loud patterns)
- Auditory input, including loud or even soft, background noises
- Tactile input like tags on clothing or fabrics like wool and cotton
- Olfactory input, which includes strong, fragrant, or pungent smells from food, lotions, candles, and more
- Gustatory input like powerful tastes such as spicy or bitter food
The same mechanisms are at work here to calm the nervous system of children whose bodies are overly sensitive to the input mentioned above. Clinically speaking, any activity (or tool) that improves a child’s body awareness will help them respond to this overwhelming input in a more balanced way. Activities or tools that increase body awareness target a lesser-known sensory system called the proprioceptive system. Unlike the other types of sensory information, everyone can process proprioceptive input and it can only benefit kids by unknowingly improving their ability to regulate input.
Weighted blankets for hyperactive kids
When children are too overstimulated, their brains have difficulty maintaining a steady level of activity. This overstimulation may come from too much sensory input or they simply may be hyperactive. Weighted blankets can also assist with hyperactivity, which is the main symptom of children living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with ADHD often demonstrate other symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty focusing
- Impaired memory
- Trouble learning new things
These children typically have a hard time self-soothing due to high activity levels. Weighted blankets can improve a child’s focus, especially when they need to engage in sedentary activities such as reading or doing homework. It is often recommended that kids with hyperactivity disorders such as this use weighted blankets at school so they can more easily remain seated during class time and attend to their teacher.
How heavy should a weighted blanket be for children?
Weighted blankets are usually between 5 and 30 pounds. The lightest of these weighted blankets are most suitable for children. Blankets around 5 pounds won’t significantly benefit others, since 30 pounds is the recommendation for a full-grown adult. That being said, five pounds is quite significant for a child. For this reason, weighted blankets are not safe for use with any infant or toddler. To air on the side of caution, most professionals recommend using weighted blankets only with children 3 years of age or older.
If you are concerned about a particular blanket being too heavy for your child, a good rule of thumb is to ensure the blanket is no more than 10% of the child’s body weight. This rule does not need to be strictly followed with older children as long as they are able to manage it independently.
Using a weighted blanket
Weighted blanket safety
While weighted blankets are considered safe for kids ages 3 and up, it is still recommended that these younger children are supervised while using their blanket. Parents and caregivers should consider safety at all times. This means any child should not use a weighted blanket if they are too small or are unable to physically remove the blanket from themselves. Parents should also use good judgment when giving a weighted blanket to a child with severe developmental delays, as they may not understand how to remove it when desired or necessary.
There are additional safety concerns related to nighttime use. Your child may love their weighted blanket and want to keep it with them when they sleep, but it’s unfortunately unsafe for them to do so. At this time of day, kids are not being supervised nor are they able to adjust or remove the blanket as they would be able to when they are awake.
Care for weighted blankets
If you want to protect the weighted blanket from getting too dirty, you can place a duvet cover or other light layers over the top and wash that as needed. But weighted blankets have good washability. Most weighted blankets have a removable cover that can easily be cleaned in a standard washing machine cycle and dryer cycle. Some others can be cleaned in a washing machine on a standard washer cycle and dryer cycle. It’s best to use a bleach-free cleanser to preserve the appearance of the blanket. Set the dryer to low or medium and periodically stop the cycle to fluff the blanket. This will ensure it retains its texture and evenness.
What are the downsides of weighted blankets for kids?
Aside from being too heavy and inappropriate for infants and toddlers, there are no downsides to weighted blankets. One of the greatest advantages about weighted blankets is that, when used according to recommendations, they are a safe and accessible way to help manage behavioral concerns and anxiety in children. Weighted blankets are affordable, simple, and often very enjoyable for kids who use them. Depending on the brand that you buy, some weighted blankets may lose their filling and, therefore, become less effective. This is why you should buy a good quality blanket that withstands the test of time as your child uses it consistently through the years.
How else can I help my anxious child cope?
The best way for your child to reap the benefits of a weighted blanket is to pair it with other stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise, and deep breathing. This is the best way for parents to help their children cope with concerns such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor focus, and sensory sensitivities.
How long should my child wear their weighted blanket?
The general consensus is that they can wear it as long as they want to. There is no harm to wearing it for several hours at a time and there is no minimum time limit that is required for it to be effective.
Can a weighted blanket be too heavy?
The acceptable range is between 5 and 30 pounds, but you should get one that is no more than 10% of your child’s body weight. Any weighted blanket over 35 pounds is thought to be too heavy (even for adults) since it doesn’t allow much breathability. You can optimize breathability by getting a blanket made of a light material such as organic cotton.
Where should I place the weighted blanket on my child?
They are usually best-suited for the lap, since that allows movement in the arms. Some kids might like them pulled over more of their body, which is acceptable if they are physically able to remove it as they please. It’s not a good idea to place the weighted blanket over the chest area of someone who has breathing problems, since this can prevent the lungs from properly expanding.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t use a weighted blanket?
Anyone with circulation issues (those with diabetes or low blood pressure) should use caution with a weighted blanket. If too heavy, they can cut off circulation and blood flow to vital parts of the body. If these people do use a weighted blanket, they should do it for smaller intervals.