Benefits of Using a Weighted Blanket for Kids with Special Needs

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We are detailing our experience using a weighted blanket for our daughter with special needs. She has a long history of sleep disturbances related to ADHD and Autism.

Disclaimer: This article is based upon personal experiences of those who have tried a particular strategy. It is NOT medical advice, nor a substitute for medical advice. It is neither an endorsement or opposition to any intervention.

Trouble with sleep

Nearly 89% of parents who have a child with special needs report sleep difficulties. Most often these challenges include difficulty getting to sleep and middle-of-the night wake ups. In many cases, these challenges go far beyond the toddler years. 

That’s why we created the Roadmap to Better Sleep! One of the sleep aides we list is a weighted blanket.  Although my daughter doesn’t use it every night, there are nights when she requests it.  We find that it is an effective tool to help her calm her body so she can fall asleep.

weighted blanket
Weighted blanket

What is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket is a blanket that is heavier than a standard blanket. Filled with poly pellets, weighted discs, or glass beads, weighted blankets apply pressure across the body to promote relaxation. Although the weight and size of the blanket varies depending on the needs of the user, a weighted blanket applies a gentle pressure on the body of the person using it.

The Science

Published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Dr. Temple Grandin was among the first to note that deep-pressure touch calmed the central nervous systems of both animals and humans with sensory sensitivities. Her research led to the development of the weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets can help promote relaxation.  Stress and anxiety cause the cortisol hormone to increase in the body. Often called the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol stimulates the nervous system and can lead to muscle tension, headaches and difficulty relaxing.

This is where the deep pressure touch from a weighted blanket can help.  Live Science notes that deep-pressure touch can release serotonin and dopamine, 2-neurotransmitters that make you feel better and more relaxed.

For those with insomnia, it works similarly, due to the release of Serotonin. Serotonin naturally converts to melatonin, which helps your body and nerve activity to relax in proportion for sleep.  Melatonin is referred to as 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. [Get a list foods that contain melatonin click here!

Who it Helps

Weighted blankets have been traditionally used by Occupational Therapists to help with sensory integration.

However, they have since become a mainstream tool, and are widely available.  They are often used to help children and adults with anxiety, stress, and sleeping difficulties which are common with both ADHD and Autism.

Simply due to the extra pressure upon the body, weighted blankets may also reduce tossing and turning at night. In fact, a 2015 article by the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders found that a weighted blanket did, in fact, help those with insomnia sleep better.

Choosing the Right Blanket

Weighted blankets are generally made of a plush material, such as minky dot or fleece, or a breathable fabric such as cotton.

For my daughter, we wanted something that was soft, soothing and age appropriate.  We also wanted something that was durable, washer and dryer safe. 

There are companies that craft custom blankets, who will work on providing a solution to meet your individual needs.    You’ll find standard blankets at Wal Mart, Target or on Amazon.

Choosing the Right Weight

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.  Always check with your healthcare practitioner before using any new interventions.  Here’s a guide:

Body Weight Blanket Weight
20 – 40 lbs. 3 – 6 lbs.
40 – 60 lbs. 5 – 8 lbs.
60 – 70 lbs. 7 – 9 lbs.
70 – 90 lbs. 8 – 11 lbs.
90 – 110 lbs. 10 – 11 lbs.
110 – 120 lbs. 11 – 12 lbs.
120 – 140 lbs. 12 – 14 lbs.
140 – 160 lbs. 14 – 16 lbs.
160 – 180 lbs. 16 – 18 lbs.

As with any new intervention, consult your healthcare provider or licensed therapist to discuss the weight that’s right for you or your child.

Conclusion

Our special needs family finds that a weighted blanket is an effective tool in our better-sleep toolbox! Our daughter, who has a range of special needs as a result of Autism and ADHD, loves her weighted blanket, and the way it helps her calm down to fall sleep.

More Tumble into Love Resources for Sleep

Roadmap to Better Sleep
How Much Sleep do Kids Need?
Use a Sleep Log For Better Sleep
Blue Light & Sleepless Nights
Set an Electronic Bedtime
Foods that Promote Sleep
Create an Ideal Sleeping Space

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