Insufficient or difficulty in sleeping is a common problem among many individuals in the United States, but having a child who has difficulty getting to or staying asleep can be frustrating, both for the child and for parents.
One potential method for helping kids relax and experience better sleeping habits is by using a weighted blanket. Reported in some studies to produce a calming and relaxing effect and showing benefit in children with anxiety, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), a recent study on individuals with chronic insomnia also showed that using a weighted blanket significantly improved sleep quality.
Chronic insomnia is defined as having difficulty falling and/or maintaining sleep for more than three days a week and for more than three months at a time. Researchers in Sweden found that when individuals with this type of sleep disturbance slept with a weighted blanket that was more than 12% of an individual’s body weight, the participants experienced increased length of sleep bouts throughout the night, less movement and restlessness, and more restful sleep in the next-to-last hour prior to waking, which is usually during the lighter phase of sleeping when it is easier to wake.
In this study, the participants began by sleeping for a week in their habitual environment. They then followed with a test period of two weeks sleeping with a weighted blanket every night. The participants then returned the blanket after the two-week testing period and slept for an additional week in their ordinary sleeping environment. The researchers used both objective and qualitative measures to determine sleep quantity, quality, and whether the participants enjoyed using the weighted blankets. The findings were significant in that compared to the first week of sleeping in their normal environment, participants experienced increased sleep bout time, and both decreased total activity during the time in bed as well as activity during the night when the weighted blankets were used. Additionally, once the individuals returned the blankets and slept in their normal environment again, a significant decrease in sleep bout time and increased activity was experienced once again.
When using the weighted blankets, participants also reported overall that they enjoyed sleeping with it, that they found it easier to fall asleep, felt their sleep quality was improved, and felt more refreshed upon waking in the morning. They also felt a sense of security from the weight of the blankets, brought about by its “cocooning” effect.
Though the scientists reported some limitations from the study design and results, their results, along with previous findings about the benefits of weighted blankets among autistic children, indicate that this strategy of improving sleep may be quite beneficial in both children and adults with trouble sleeping, and is a non-invasive method with no harmful effects. They indicate that the effect of a weighted blanket may work well for those who experience insomnia, as its tactile nature decreases the flight or fight activity of the nervous system, along with the cocooning effect that participants experience.
In my practice I have found that some children and young adults have improved sleep with a weighted blanket. It is important to ensure the blanket is not too heavy, and that there is adequate ventilation in the bedroom so overheating doesn’t occur! Using this strategy can help reduce night time anxiety, calm the sensory system, and improve sleep initiation and duration. Definitely worth a try if your child has challenges with sleep!
Have you tried a weighted blanket to help your child sleep? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
Ackerley, R., Badre, G., and Olausson, H. (2015). Positive effects of a weighted blanket on insomnia. Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, 2(3). 1022.