Please be advised, dear readers, the thoughts below apply to all weighted blankets. We turn to specific brands in other entries on this site.
Weighted blankets weigh in at a hefty five pounds on the light side and a whopping thirty pounds on the heavy. No comparison here between one of these behemoths and that especially heavy quilt Great Aunt Susie Hughes gave us for Christmas back in 1962.
The principal benefit from these heavy blankets arises in their promotion of the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that has much to say about your sleep cycle. We’ve also seen some claims that weighted blankets call forth other hormones capable of calming your nerves.
At the outset, you should know that these blankets are far from inexpensive, with most falling into a price range of one hundred to three hundred dollars. At those prices, expect a bunch of options in weights and materials.
The theory of weighted sleep
With a weighted blanket, your child will feel more grounded; that is, the blanket presses the child farther into the sleep surface, adding nicely to a feeling of wrapped-around security. From a more clinical standpoint, the grounding effect reduces the production of cortisol. And that’s good, very good, because cortisol — a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands — is dumped into the blood to control mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol triggers the body’s flight-or-fight instincts in a stressful situation. Not exactly conducive to sleep, this instinct. Essentially, cortisol production at bedtime becomes counter-productive, working against the production of melatonin, definitely not a happy effect on time required to go to sleep or to stay asleep thereafter.
Children with autism may often produce minimal amounts of meltatonin. (In this regard, you’ll read throughout the pages of our Hughes website multiple reviews of products intended to bring melatonin to the relief of your child’s sleep difficulties.) In the reduction of cortisol, in the increase of melatonin, weighted blankets earn their keep.
If the grounding sensation created by the blankets also triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine — hormones that help us to relax, to feel calm and content — then your child will enjoy a double dose of goodness. And in the best news of all, weighted blankets may induce the production of oxytocin, that wonderful hormone associated with a long, warm, loving hug.
The practicalities of weighted blankets
You should make a special effort to tailor any weighted blanket to your child, weight being the principal consideration, of course. Most clinicians agree that a child will find maximum comfort under a blanket weighing about ten percent that of their own total body weight.
Be particularly careful about allowing kiddos under the age of eight to use a weighted blanket. In fact, youngsters in this age group should sleep so grounded only after the blanket has been prescribed by a physician or a licensed therapist.
As a parent, you should also be certain that the child doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia or other such fears of being enclosed or trapped: the extra weight of the blanket might very well cause the phobia to erupt.
On a much more positive note, you may choose from a broad range of blanket weights. Some blankets may be folded to distribute more or less weight, as the child wants or needs. Weighted blankets come in sizes that match the dimensions of common mattresses: twin through king. The blankets will be filled with plastic or glass beads to ensure proper distribution of weight, along with polyester pill to add soft comfort. You may choose the cover as you would any other blanket, finding the material best suited to your child, from natural fibers to synthetic fabrics to blends incorporating both. Expect to pay more for wool or cotton, with their greater breathability.