The Benefits of a Weighted Blanket

Kristen McGurrin, MOT, OTR/L and Ashley Tillinghast MS, OTR/L
Weighted blankets

Do you like the feeling of someone giving you a big, tight hug or being wrapped up tightly with blankets at night? If so, a weighted blanket may be beneficial for you.

What does a weighted blanket do?

When used, a weighted blanket provides deep pressure to your body’s joints and muscles, known as “proprioceptive input.” That means the joints and muscles receive sensations that help you be more aware of your body and understand where it is in space. Some activities can have the same effect, such as weight bearing activities, pushing or pulling heavy items, or through consistent deep pressure, like that of a weighted blanket.  

Typically, a weighted blanket is a useful tool to help an individual control excessively high energy levels or help maintain a regulated nervous system. Many individuals have a hard time relaxing their bodies after a long and busy day. A weighted blanket can provide calming input, which helps organize the body’s nervous system to promote relaxation and support healthier sleep patterns.

It can also help support and maintain a calm, safe level of arousal during activities of daily living. 

Who might benefit from using weighted blankets?

For a child to be at an optimal arousal level for age-appropriate daily functioning, a child’s body needs to be calm, yet alert to engage in their environment. A weighted blanket will provide both tactile and proprioceptive input throughout a child’s body to increase his/her body awareness and comfort, and promote a calm body.

Individuals who can benefit from the sensations this tool provides include:

  • anyone who is hyperactive, over-stimulated, anxious, inattentive, or displaying constant body movements, such as wiggling, touching others, jumping/crashing, invading personal space
  • an overstimulated or “overwhelmed” child
  • any child who seeks deep touch and pressure, such as hugs, blanket wraps, arm rubs, laying under pillows, or layering him/herself with blankets
  • children older than age two with autism and/or sensory processing difficulties. A weighted blanket should not be used with children under two years of age or without consulting a specialist.

When should a weighted blanket be used?

A weighted blanket can be used any time, although its primary goal is to assist in both falling asleep and staying asleep. It can be used:

  • prior to or during bedtime routines to improve sleep patterns
  • when a child becomes dysregulated to support a calm body
  • as a support to prior to times or activities that may make a child nervous and uneasy, or is anxiety-provoking  
  • as an alternative “lap-pad” during sitting tasks such as watching TV, completing homework, or sitting down during meal-time routines for increased sitting tolerance

Safety first

There are some safety tips to remember when using a weighted blanket:

  • Interest in using a weighted blanket should be discussed with a licensed occupational therapist.
  • Never use a weighted blanket on a child younger than age two.
  • A blanket should weigh no more than 10 percent of a child’s body weight. So, a 60-pound child should have a blanket that weighs less than six pounds.
  • A weighted blanket should be disbursed evenly over a child’s limbs to distribute weight safely.
  • It is vital to ensure an open airway throughout use.
  • When using a weighted blanket, a child should be able to remove himself of herself from the blanket without being restricted or restrained.
  • For bed-time routines, a child should be monitored for airway access and accessibility during use.

Please remember that weighted blankets can be wonderful, but they are not for everyone.

For more tips on wellness, visit the Being section of our Lifespan Living blog.