Weighted Blanket Benefits for Kids With Special Sleep Needs

They've become wildly popular, but they've actually been around for a while. Discover weighted blanket benefits for kids – and see if it's a snug fit for you.

A young child sleeping under a blue weighted blanket
Photo from Friendship Circle

If your child has trouble sleeping, we may have found your new best friend. Many parents have retired their Sleepytime tea and “count backwards” routines for weighted blankets.

They’ve exploded in popularity over the last few years after being peppered into holiday gift guides, blog posts and Instagram influencers’ feeds. Glowing online reviews tout weighted blankets as a solution to insomnia, anxiety, fibromyalgia and more.

Parents of children who have sleep issues – whether due to an overactive mind or more serious causes like PTSD – have also revered it an instant miracle-worker.

Here’s a closer look at weighted blanket benefits for kids, as well as things to consider before making the investment.

Where did they come from?

Weighted blankets aren’t anything new. Before they exploded on the mainstream market and Time named them one of the “best inventions of 2018“, weighted blankets were first used in the special needs community over 20 years ago.

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The original “inventor” of weighted blankets hasn’t been explicitly named, but a few companies claim to be the first to make them.

The owner of Magic Weighted Blankets says he thought of his own product back in 1997 after being inspired by the comfort of his daughter’s beanie baby. Another early implementation dates back to 1999, when occupational therapist Tina Champagne offered weighted blankets to some of her mental health patients.

Weighted blankets then became a grassroots, word-of-mouth product among special education professionals and parents of children with special needs in the early 2000s – especially children with autism spectrum disorder.

Although people with autism display a wide variety of symptoms at different levels, up to 86 percent have trouble sleeping, Spectrum news reports.

Sleep problems like insomnia and sleep apnea, especially in children, are gateways to more struggles with hyperactivity and social interaction.

Melatonin supplements and a strict routine can help. But, in addition to multiple studies, testimonials from parents and professionals support the idea that weighted blankets come out on top.

In a 2018 article with The Atlantic, Salt of the Earth owner Annie Peters said, “I’ve had people call me and just go on and on about what a difference it makes to have their child sleep all night. Because then the parent can sleep all night. Then they can cut back on meds. The kids don’t go to school under (the influence of) drugs or groggy.”

How do they work?

Weighted blankets are usually filled with pellets, balls or cheins. They weigh from three to 20 pounds, depending on your body weight.

The recommended amount is equal to 10 percent of your body weight (plus on to two pounds for children), notes Lora’s Weighted Blankets.

Jeanette Jones, an occupational therapist at Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield, says that the nervous system responds positively to an appropriate amount of weight and pressure – regardless of a person’s mental state or circumstances.

“(The blankets) have a similar relaxing effect to massages, and I think that’s why they’ve become so popular recently,” Jones says. “As therapists, we’ve always been recommending weighted blankets.”

Lisa Dekker, a former special education teacher and program coordinator, used them in her own classroom throughout her teaching career.

“We mainly used the blankets to help students who were having high-level emotional struggles and meltdowns,” says Dekker, a mom of four in the Grand Rapids area. “Almost immediately, we’d see the heart rate go down, the sweating would stop – and some students would even fall asleep.”

Dekker’s goal is to make weighted blankets a tool in general education classrooms. She says that neurologically, people with and without autism have more similarities than most people would assume.

The recent emergence of weighted blankets in the mainstream market reflects that notion.

“(The blankets’ recent spike in popularity) was exciting for us in the education world,” Dekker says. “We noticed that hey, something’s going on here – and there may be a wider benefit than we originally thought.”

What’s the catch?

With so many people raving about the weighted blanket benefits for kids, it’s hard to find any negative aspects about them. But there are always a few things to keep in mind when you weigh the pros and cons.

“Weight” is right in the name, so it’s no surprise that it can be difficult to take these hefty blankets with you on vacations. If you or your child can’t live without a weighted blanket, the transport might be worth it. Especially if you’re flying, consider investing in a weighted lap pad, too – it’ll save time and hassle while you pack and as you go through the security line.

Another possible drawback? Some people have commented that they have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. The comfort and weight that these blankets provide can make even the biggest “morning person” want to stay in bed all day.

One more thing to consider: price. Depending on size, fabric, filler and the company selling them, weighted blankets could end up being over $200. People have definitely dropped money on worse things in life (like that serum that only seems to work on Gwenyth Paltrow). But it’s important to know that weighted blankets should not in the “impulse purchase” category of your budget.

Where to buy a weighted blanket

Before large retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond started selling these miracle workers, many people made weighted blankets out of their own homes. They were marketed by word-of-mouth and through popular websites like Etsy.

After Dekker left her teaching job to take care of an ill family member, parents of her former students requested some of their own blankets. As word spread in the community, she developed her own West Michigan-based company called Joy In The Making.

Many small businesses like Dekker’s have felt the presence of large retailers, but there remains a notable difference. Dekker caters to her customers’ varying needs, whether they’d like a certain size, type of fabric or hot/cold option.

If you support a small, Michigan-owned business or pick one up on a shopping trip, a weighted blanket could make a difference in your life or your child’s life, too.

Have you ever used a weighted blanket? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

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