Weighted blankets are a popular new product. People rave about their effect on their sleep and anxiety, two common complaints. In fact, weighted blankets are even reported to help children with some of these symptoms. While many customers tout the benefits of weighted blankets, popular culture does not often expand on the scientific studies. Read on to discover the research findings on weighted blankets and their effect on anxiety, insomnia, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in children.
Weighted Blankets Overview
A weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like – a blanket that is weighed down using a variety of materials to create a cocoon like effect on the user. Customers can choose the weight that they prefer, most often between 15-30 pounds. Children should choose a lighter weight that is more appropriate for their size.
While new to the average person, weighted blankets have long been used in occupational therapy. They are considered a sensory modulation treatment that aids in stabilization and the recovery process. After occupational therapy patients reported feeling safe and comforted by the blankets, the use of weighted blankets expanded into the mental health sphere.
The Theory of Weighted Blankets
The scientific term for the quality offered by a weighted blanket is called Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS). Like a firm hug, weighted blankets can calm children and adults alike. While there is a deluge of anecdotal evidence that weighted blankets improve sleep and anxiety, the research studies only focus on certain conditions. Specifically, research studies have shown that weighted blankets improve sleep, improve symptoms in children on the autism spectrum, and improve hyperactivity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD and Weighted Blankets
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that normally presents in childhood. It is defined by a difficulty concentrating and a difficulty staying still. While this could present differently for many people, the most common symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. These may impair social, occupational, and academic facets of a child’s life. Treatment is multi-focal, meaning management is based on a variety of strategies.
One treatment option that research has considered is weighted vests and, by extension, a weighted blanket. This specific study examined measured inattention, impulse control, and on-task behavior in children with ADHD. They found that using a weighed vest improve inattention and on-task behaviors.
Another study found that weighted blankets could help with sleep in children with ADHD. In particular, they examined children ages 8-13 years with ADHD. They were particularly interested in how long it took children to fall asleep, total length of sleep, and number of awakenings throughout the night. They found that children fell asleep faster using a weighted blanket.
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Weighted Blankets
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder in which people have difficulties processing social interactions and communications. The exact cause is unknown, but scientists believe it is due to both genetic and environmental factors.
Symptoms are different for each person. Some hallmarks include impaired social interaction and repetitive stereotyped behavior or interest. Social impairment includes reduced eye contact, reduced language skills, difficulty communicating, and difficulty understanding and communicating emotions. Stereotyped, repetitive behavior includes hand-wringing, clapping, arm flapping, and other gestures that may present as atypical. Stereotyped interests could include only eating beige foods.
Some people on the autism spectrum also have difficulty sleeping. One study examined children between the age of 5 and 16 years old. Interestingly, the study did not find that weighted blankets scientifically aided sleep in children with ASD, but they did find that children and parents preferred them over regular blankets. Specifically, scientists found there was no difference in sleeping longer, falling asleep faster, or waking less often. However, they found that participants rated that sleep with weighted blankets as “better” quality sleep than sleep with regular blankets. They also “really liked” the weighted blanket versus the regular blanket.
Anxiety and Weighted Blankets
While anxiety is just a regular feeling that people feel in different situations, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental health issue that goes beyond the bounds of a normal anxious response. Studies have found that people with anxiety or disturbed behavior are comforted by weighted blankets.
Weighted blankets have long been used in occupational therapy and have recently moved into the mental health sphere. Scientific studies have validated their use for children with ADHD and ASD. They may also improve sleep and anxiety. While more research needs to be done, what is true is that many people love weighted blankets.