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How Weighted Blankets Calm Children and Help them Sleep Better

January 16, 2017

Charles Shultz was definitely on to something when he created Linus VanPelt’s iconic baby blue blanket.  While he primarily uses it for security, Linus transforms his blanket into a shepherd’s headdress, a scarf, a sport coat and the covering for the base of a tiny Christmas tree.

Children, like Linus, love their blankets, especially when they are anxious. What if your child’s favorite blanket, like Linus’ served several purposes?

Consider introducing a weighted blanket to calm your anxious child by day and helping him sleep better at night.

What is a weighted blanket?

Image by www.lorasweightedblankets.com

As the name implies, weighted blankets are like quilts, with each section filled with poly-pellets, glass beads, or other materials.  The quilt-type design evenly distributes the blanket’s weight over and around an individual.

Whether purchased from a custom blanket manufacturer, a therapy products company, or made as a DIY project, these blankets have an amazing power to calm anxious children.

Just ask Keith Zivalich, the owner of the Los Angeles based company, appropriately named The Magic Blanket, magicweightedblanket. Keith’s company, started in 1998, was the first weighted blanket manufacturer in the United States.

Keith says, “We heard great stories from customers about how our blankets worked wonders with their children and themselves.  Several of our customers called our product ‘their magic blanket.’  That’s when it hit us.  The effects of a weighted blanket work magic. We changed our company name to more accurately reflect how people feel about our weighted blankets.”

Weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics and styles and vary in size and weight, depending on the size of the adult or child who use them.

“As a guideline, we suggest a customer purchase a blanket that is 10% of the child’s body weight plus one pound, and then go up two sizes,” Keith recommends.

“By allowing for the 1-2 sizes of growth, you get a blanket that is a little heavier, due to the extra inches, but that extra weight is going to hang past the child’s feet.  This allows a child to grow into the blanket and makes it more cost effective.”

Many manufacturers like The Magic Blanket fill their blankets with plastic poly pellets.  “We use these poly pellets because they are BPA-free, hypo-allergenic, and high heat tolerant, which means they can be put in the dryer with a heat setting as high as you’d like,” explains Keith.

Do Weighted Blankets Calm Children?

Brenda Richards, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and co-owner of The Center for Lifeskills in Solon, Ohio center4lifeskills.  The practice, which offers occupational and speech therapy, uses weighted blankets to help children in several ways.

“Weighted blankets offer DPTS, or Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation which calms the central nervous system,” Brenda explains. “These blankets give children a big, warm hug.  This sends a message to their brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These hormones improve a child’s mood and calm anxiety.”’

“In addition, Brenda says, “Weighted blankets make children feel grounded and safe.  They improve attention and focus, which helps children with anxiety, attention deficit, sensory integration and autism spectrum disorders.”

Keith estimates he sells at least fifty percent of his Magic Blankets for special needs customers.

When Keith began making blankets, he gave a prototype to a friend, a special education teacher.  The teacher used the blankets to help calm her students, and Keith knew he was onto something.

Individuals, schools, hospitals, purchase Magic Blankets. Keith says the Veteran’s Administration bought them to help vets with PTSD.

Lora Jacobson, of Lora’s Weighted Blankets lorasweightedblankets says that a preschool bought weighted lap pads (like a blanket, but smaller) for students with special needs.  The school found that the weighted lap pads calmed the children and helped them focus on learning in the classroom.

Lora says, “A regular education teacher borrowed a lap pad for one of her students who had an IEP.  It worked very well for the student, and the teacher didn’t want to give it back.”

Research on Weighted Blankets

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the use of weighted blankets for people with insomnia and autism, wsj.com/articles/can-weighted-blankets-help-insomnia-or-autism-1478549070.

While that article concluded that published research on the effectiveness of weighted blankets for children with anxiety or autism spectrum disorders was scarce, I believe there is strong evidence for the premise behind weighted blankets, Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation.

In an article published in 1998 in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Edelson, Goldberg, Edelson, Kerr and Grandin concluded that deep pressure might help calm children with autism, especially those who also have high levels of anxiety. ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=1873405.

Compelling anecdotal evidence exists for using weighted blankets. Keith and Lora hear success stories from too many clients to count.

“I have so many people who call me and say that the love the feeling of the weighted blanket on their body.  That it feels calming, like the vest you wear at the dentist’s office,” Keith says.

What Do Professionals Recommend?

Brenda says that weighted blankets reduce anxiety in her young occupational therapy clients.

“Many children seek sensory input, like deep pressure, to relieve anxiety,” says Brenda.  “Deep pressure offers sensory input that calms the nervous system.  There are many ways to offer deep pressure stimulation, like through joint compressions, massages, weighted vests, backpacks, and weighted blankets.”

“Weighted blankets comfort and calm children helping them fall and stay asleep,” says Brenda.

Most children sleep with a special blanket or a stuffed animal. Psychologists call them security or transitional objects.   When you add weight to a blanket, it becomes therapeutic as well.

“Weighted blankets, or weighted lap pads help many children who are anxious, on the autism spectrum, have sensory integration dysfunction, or attention deficit disorder,” says Brenda.

“With a weighted blanket the child has the sensation of a firm hug while also being warmed.  It’s a wonderfully relaxing sensory input for them.”

Weighted blankets and lap pads help calm anxious children during the day, which is beneficial to their attention, learning and academic success.  This is a bonus for classroom teachers who find that weighted lap pads reduce time off task behaviors in children who are using them during the school day.

Many parents confirm that weighted blankets have improved their child’s sleep, which results in a better night’s sleep for them as well.

The parent of a child with an autism and anxiety disorder says, “I don’t need to read volumes of research on whether or not weighted blankets work.  My daughter sleeps better and is less anxious since she began using her weighted blanket.  Improving her quality of life improves my quality of life.  That’s the only research study I need.”

Keith agrees.  “Regardless of what studies say, I have hundreds of customers who swear by weighted blankets for themselves and their children.  Our business keeps growing, so the blankets must be effective.”

Choosing a Blanket

Weighted blankets are effective, but purchasing one for a child takes some thought and consideration.

Lora suggests parents consult with an occupational therapist or their child’s doctor before investing in a blanket.

Brenda says she prefers parents try a blanket with their child before buying one.  They have several sample blankets in their practice.

“I always suggest that a parent talk to the child’s doctor or occupational therapist first.  Don’t just buy a weighted blanket without getting a professional opinion,” says Brenda.

“Most children are fine with a weighted blanket,” Brenda continues, “But some children shouldn’t use a weighted blanket. Unless a doctor approves, do not use a weighted blanket for a child with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder or a respiratory or circulatory issue.”

Once you have that approval, follow the general recommendations from your blanket’s manufacturer.

Lora created an assessment on her website to help consumers decide on the right blanket form themselves or their child: lorasweightedblankets.com/assessment/

In an e-Book, available for free download, Lora shares the current research validating the use of weighted blankets as a natural remedy for anxiety and insomnia, lorasweightedblankets.com/doweightedblanketswork/

“The most important thing parents need to be aware of involves the safety concerns for weighted blankets,” Lora says.

Each of Lora’s blankets has a care card explaining how to safely use a blanket with children. Lora advises that blankets are for children over age 2, should never be used as a restraint, or without the consent of the child.

“A child using a weighted blanket needs to put it on and remove it themselves,” advises Lora.  “The child’s head and neck should be free at all times.  And never use a blanket for an adult on a child.”

With guidelines established and the child’s safety determined, the joy of creating your child’s blanket begins.  Involve your child in all aspect of the blanket’s design: choosing fabric, textures, colors and patterns.

Making A Book About Your Blanket

As a special education teacher, I made books with children to help them with a variety of challenges.  Children, especially beginning readers, love a book written about them.

To make the blanket extra special for your child write a story about your child and her blanket. Reading a book they helped write and illustrate makes the blanket even more comforting.

Using a book printing service gives you a bookshelf worthy finished product for a relatively inexpensive price. Some book publishing companies include blurb, Bookemon or Mystorybook. Blank bound books, sold by companies like Barebooks work well too.

Using a weighted blanket helps your child relax during the day and sleep better at night.  I’m sure a blanket enthusiast like Linus would totally agree!  Please share your success with using a weighted blanket or lap pad for your anxious child.

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  • Reply Tina January 16, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    What a nice item to use in the quest to help calm anxious kids! It seems so simple, but I can definitely see how the weight will help make a child of any age feel more secure. I’m going to suggest a weighted blanket to friends and family who I know can benefit from this. Thanks for the great links, too!

    • Reply Jan Gioia January 17, 2017 at 12:10 am

      Thank you, Tina. I had never heard of weighted blankets until a friend mentioned them to me. I’m glad you found the links to be helpful.

  • Reply Brenda January 17, 2017 at 12:29 am

    I’ve read about these online, but without the depth of research this article provides. Thanks! As a grandma to be, this is great information.

    • Reply Jan Gioia January 17, 2017 at 12:36 am

      Thanks, Brenda. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and the depth of the research. I really enjoyed learning about weighted blankets as I wrote the story. I got interested in them when I used a weighted lap pad a few weeks ago. It was very calming and I got interested in learning more about the science and research behind them. Congratulations on the grandbaby-to-be!

  • Reply Amy February 4, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    What an easy but very effective thing to do! I would’ve never thought something as simple as a blanket could help a child so much with their anxiety. This was such a helpful article!

    • Reply Jan Gioia February 5, 2017 at 2:19 am

      Thank you, Amy! I have heard from many parents who say that using a weighted blanket for their child has improved the child’s sleep so much. Many of the parents use them as well.

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