Weighted blankets offer comfort, security, better night's sleep

Linda Wolfe-Stine, occupational therapist and supervisor of pediatric rehabilitation at the Pediatric Developmental Center at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, says weighted blankets are used by individuals with autism, sensory processing issues, anxiety and sleep difficulties.

Weighted blankets have become popular in recent years. They don't work for some people, but for those they do they’ve improved numerous issues.

“Weighted blankets are often used with individuals who have autism, sensory processing difficulties, anxiety and sleep difficulties, but many individuals find weighted blankets comforting,” said Linda Wolfe-Stine, an occupational therapist and supervisor of pediatric rehabilitation at the Pediatric Developmental Center at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.

The blankets usually have small stitched pockets filled with microbeads that apply pressure over the entire body. They weigh 10 to 25 pounds.

For adults and kids who have trouble sleeping, weighted blankets can make a big difference in sleep quality. “Many people report that they can fall asleep with more ease and remain asleep for longer,” Wolfe-Stine said.

Valerie DeMay, of Lansing, has a weighted blanket that is used most often by her 13-year-old son. “It gives him the sensory input he needs,” she said. "It doesn’t help him sleep longer. It does, however, allow him to fall asleep quicker and into a deeper slumber. He tells us he feels more comforted and protected with his weighted blanket.”

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Many weighted blanket users report falling asleep faster. “For individuals who are sensitive to light touch or have difficulty relaxing for sleep, a weighted blanket may be able to help with calming and relaxing,” Wolfe-Stine said. “Weighted blankets vary in weight — typically 10% of the individual’s weight — and provide the sense of deep pressure, also known as proprioception. Much like when a baby is calmed when swaddled, children and adults are calmed by the same sense. The idea is that the weight of the blanket can provide soothing, calming and organization of the nervous system. It is also suspected that serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances the feeling of well-being and calm, may be released more with proprioceptive input.”

Dawn Buckley, of Highland, purchased a weighted blanket for her 20-year-old daughter, Addi, who had her tonsils and adenoids removed due to sleep apnea. Addi also has Down syndrome and low muscle tone, so Buckley hoped the blanket would keep her from moving around a lot in her bed. It worked in helping her sleep more soundly. “She says it’s like a hug, and we have seen a difference in her sleep quality,” Buckley said.

That calming effect in slumber can also help for kids during waking hours, according to Wolfe-Stine. "Weighted blankets, vests and suits can be valuable during a child's awake time and are often used during pediatric occupational therapy services,” she said. “It can be calming for those children who are sensitive to tactile (touch) input and vestibular (motion) input. Also, the weighted equipment can sometimes assist with improving a child's attention or focus and ability to self-regulate during difficult tasks.”

Some of the weighted blankets come with a cover to making washing easier. Fabrics and designs vary, but some claim to use breathable fabric and cooling glass beads for the summer months. Price also varies depending on size and weight, but the blankets start around $40. There are also kits to make your own and instruction available on YouTube.

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