Never underestimate the power of sleep, especially if you’re a parent of young kids.
Overtiredness may increase irritability, trigger fluctuations in moods, and cause feelings of fatigue throughout the day. Needless to say, it’s hard to be the best advocate for your family when you’re struggling to function at your best.
Here’s a fact: how your kids sleep directly affects how you sleep and whether or not you get a good night’s rest.
In other words, when your kids struggle to sleep through the night, chances are you aren’t getting the quality shut-eye that you need. So, is there a way to ensure that your little ones will enjoy an uninterrupted snooze?
Unfortunately, there is no magic potion to make children sleep through the night every night. However, a popular product, namely a weighted blanket, has been recommended by pediatricians, scientists, and numerous parents. While there is no guarantee that a weighted blanket will bring sweet dreams to your entire family, it is certainly worth learning more about this trending solution.
What is a weighted blanket?
You know that cozy feeling you get when you snuggle under a warm comforter piled high with a bunch of thick blankets? Well, basically, that comfy feeling is the concept behind the weighted blanket (also called an anxiety blanket or a gravity blanket). A weighted blanket is purposefully made heavier than a regular blanket by using thick fabric and filling it (most often) with plastic, metal, or glass pellets.
Children may benefit from a weighted blanket because the extra heaviness mimics the sensation of being hugged, cuddled, or gently squeezed. For those kids who feel calmer and safer when they experience this type of gentle pressure, sleeping with a weighted blanket is ideal. It’s possible that they will fall sleep faster, sleep longer, or enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
How do weighted blankets work?
There’s something called “deep pressure touch” that is known to some as the simplest sensory trick in the book. You may not realize it, but you’ve probably already practiced DPT when you swaddled your baby. Just as adults are calmed by the pressure from a massage, a baby is soothed by the compressed feeling of a swaddling blanket.
Unlike a light touch, which may alert, annoy, or arouse children, the effect of deep touch that is more pronounced tends to mellow out the sensory system and can be effective at reducing anxiety. That said, it’s important to emphasize that there is no hard and fast proof that a weighted blanket will work for every child who is having trouble sleeping. The easiest way to find out if your child will benefit from a weighted blanket is to talk to your pediatrician and then go ahead and give it a trial run.
The science behind weighted blankets
The logic behind weighted blankets is very straightforward and is based on the benefits of deep touch pressure therapy. Many recipients of DPT have experienced an increase of oxytocin in the body.
As a neurotransmitter, oxytocin generates feelings of relaxation and well-being. It also releases the type of hormones that are associated with feelings of reliability, honesty, and fondness. In other words, the extra weight of the blanket makes a child feel safe and comfortable enough to sleep and, importantly, get deeper sleep and potentially reduce anxiety and stress.
When a child is getting enough quality sleep, they will have an easier time functioning in the daylight hours. This means better concentration and focus in school, smoother interactions within families, and more energy all around. And let’s not forget that it will positively impact the parents too!
It’s interesting to note that children who do not enjoy being hugged or touched in any way still may have a positive response to a weighted blanket. This is because human contact is limited; the blanket is not another person but, rather, a thing that can be pushed aside and easily avoided (if that’s what the child wants to happen). The key is to let the child know that she can control the placement of the blanket and that she can remove the blanket at any time.
Who can they help?
Weighted blankets can help all types of children. Certainly, they have been successfully recommended to kids with sensory processing issues as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, and anxiety. The reason for this (as described above) is because the heaviness of the blanket can help with the release oxytocin, which has a calming effect on the nervous system.
If you’re still not sure what sensory processing disorder means, think of it this way.
Some kids have heightened senses, meaning they experience sights, sounds, smells, and textures differently – usually more intensely – than others. For example, a marching band might sound blaring and extremely annoying to a child with sensory processing disorder and lead to complete sensory overload, while to a typical child the sound is melodious and pleasing.
Or one child might not be able to bear the feeling of rough corduroy pants against his skin, while another may think they are the most comfortable pants in his wardrobe.
Of course, neurotypical children (kids with typical developmental, cognitive, and intellectual skills) may also benefit from using a weighted blanket at bedtime.
Oftentimes kids will have a tough time settling down at night for mundane reasons, like they are fidgety, they don’t want to be alone, or they are worried about a pending storm. In these instances, lying beneath a weighted blanket may be all they need to relax. As soon as they feel safe and secure, they can fall asleep.
Whether you are trying to calm a child with ADHD or coax a nervous youngster to bed during a thunderstorm and inspire feeling of calmness, a weighted blanket may be the tool you’re looking for.
The thing to remember though, is that every individual, whether they struggle with sensory issues or not, is bound to have a different reaction. Therefore, it’s best to keep an open mind and, when possible, have other potential sleep aids and solutions on hand.
When not to use a weighted blanket with your child
Using a weighted blanket with children is not complicated, but it does require a bit of forethought.
First and foremost, be sure to check with your pediatrician before introducing the blanket to your nighttime routine.
The reason for this is because there are several instances when a weighted blanket is not recommended.
You may not want to use if:
- If your child is under 2 years old (4 years old and up is the preferred age)
- If the blanket is too heavy for your child to remove on his own
- If the blanket is heavier than the recommended weight (more on this below)
- If your child has trouble breathing while sleeping, like with sleep apnea or asthma
- If your child is claustrophobic
- If your child is extremely sensitive to different textures
- If your child does not like to hug
- If your child does not like to hold hands
- If your child does not sleep with blankets or sheets
- If your child does not like sleeping bags
How to use a weighted blanket with children
One misconception is that you need to cover your child from head to toe with a weighted blanket in order for it to provide comfort. This isn’t true; actually, you can cover up whatever part of the body your child wants covered.
Some kids only like to have their legs under the blanket, while others want to feel the weight on their entire body. It will depend on your child and his particular preferences and sleeping habits.
The positioning of the blanket on the bed is important. Make sure the ends of the blanket are on the bed, rather than hanging down. If they are trailing off of the bed, they will pull towards the floor and the blanket may slide off. For that reason, it’s best not to use a blanket that is overly larger (see below for tips on choosing the right blanket).
Since the weighted blanket provides extra warmth, you may not want to have any other blankets or warm coverings on the bed. In fact, you may choose to put your child in cooler pajamas so he doesn’t get too warm. If temperature is an issue, consider looking into cooling weighted blankets for kids to ensure that he is comfortably cool.
Even though you’ve added a weighted blanket to your bedtime routine, be sure to follow your regular nighttime schedule (brushing teeth etc.).
Types of weighted blankets
The only way to know which type of weighted blanket will work for your child is to try them out. Of course, it’s always a good idea to get a recommendation from your pediatrician, occupational therapist, pediatric sleep consultant (or even another parent), but there’s no substitute for actually giving them a whirl.
Fillings to choose from:
- Glass bead filling: Tiny glass beads are sewn between fabric and spread evenly through the blanket. The thick fabric keeps the beads from making any sounds when the blanket moves around.
- Poly or metal pellet filling: Poly and metal pellets are larger than glass beads and may make a bit more noise when they are moved around. They are heavier than the tiny glass beads, so fewer are used to fill the blanket.
- Metal chains: Small metal chains may be sewn evenly throughout the blanket and placed between soft fabric.
Fabric choices (often combined):
- Organic and recycled materials
How to choose a weighted blanket
Shopping for weighted blankets for kids is similar to shopping for any other type of bedding. There are many brands to choose from that are available online or in stores.
You’ll want to consider the size, color, feel, and cost of the blanket. You may want to consider matching the blanket to the décor in your child’s room.
Probably the most important element is the actual weight of the blanket. Here’s how to determine how heavy it should be (although double-check with your pediatrician to be extra safe): the blanket blankets should be 10 percent of the child’s body weight with one or two pounds added. For example, a 90 lb. child would use a 10 lb. blanket.
In terms of the overall size of the blanket, you never want it to be too large. Not only would that be cumbersome, but it could be too heavy and, therefore, dangerous. You may want to consider a lap-sized one in addition to one that can be used to cover the whole body.
Is a weighted blanket worth the hype?
It probably safe to assume that “sleep issues” are at the top of the list when it comes to parental concerns. Certainly, if a tool as simple as a weighted blanket may alleviate even a portion of the slumber trouble and contribute to restful sleep, in our minds it is worth its weight in gold.