What Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets for kids are blankets that normally weigh between 3 and 15 lbs. They usually have pockets with glass beads sewn into them to add weight. This weight gives a child a sense that they are being hugged and has a calming effect for many children.
Weighted blankets used to be a tool limited to therapists and psychiatry clinics, but are now used by adults and for children with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or dealing with anxiety, trauma, depression, or insomnia. Some researchers believe that deep pressure from the blanket, evenly distributed across the child's body increases the production of serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for:
- Mood stabilization
- Feelings of well-being and happiness (low levels are linked to depression)
- Helping with sleeping, eating, and digestion
Researchers are studying the link between low serotonin production and anxiety, autism, and ADHD. Serotonin is also instrumental in the body's production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Lap Pads and Weighted Stuffed Animals
A variation on the weighted blanket is a lap pad or weighted stuffed animal. Your child may associate a weighted blanket with sleep, and weighted blankets aren't designed for use when sitting up. But there are times when your child could use a calming influence, such as:
- Study time
- Car rides
- Traveling in an airplane
- During dinner
- During reading time/quiet time
These can be a great way to reduce stress levels for you and your child.
Research on Weighted Blankets
There hasn't been a lot of research on the effects of weighted blankets on children.
One study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluded that the wearing of weighted vests (which apply pressure to the wearer similar to a weighted blanket) showed significant improvement in attention span, speed of processing and responding, as well keeping the children with ADHD on task.
Another study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health showed that deep pressure stimulation from a weighted blanket can help reduce autonomic arousal, which is responsible for the symptoms of anxiety. However, according to Dr. Cristina Cusin, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "Blankets may be of help for anxiety or insomnia." But just as swaddling works for some babies and not others, weighted blankets won't be a miracle treatment for everyone.
A randomized controlled trial was conducted in London, England, that studied the effects of weighted blankets on autistic children between 5 and 17 years old. The weighted blanket didn't help the children fall asleep faster, sleep longer, or wake less often. However, the weighted blanket was favored by parents and kids and was generally well-tolerated.
Research published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry involved 8 to 13-year-olds with ADHD, studying their sleep with a ball blanket. A ball blanket is a type of weighted blanket that has balls that are approximately the size of tennis balls sewn into pockets of the blanket. Researchers concluded that it was a relevant and effective treatment for reducing sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to get to sleep). It also reduced awakenings during the night.
There have been rare tragedies where children have been trapped inside a weighted blanket. A 9-year-old with autism died rolled up in a weighted blanket in Quebec, and a 7-month-old infant. Dr. Temple Grandin, a pioneer in the study of deep touch and autism, says that weighted blankets shouldn't be used on children under 7 or 8 years. If your pediatrician gives you the green light for a weighted blanket for your child, make sure that you're using a light blanket that they can easily move themselves.
Dr. Cusin recommends that people with sleep apnea (or other sleep disorders), respiratory problems, or other chronic medical conditions shouldn't use weighted blankets. Weighted blankets may also cause problems for children with asthma or claustrophobia.
How Heavy Should a Weighted Blanket Be?
The general rule is 10% of your child's body weight, but weighted blankets shouldn't be used for children under 2 years old. You should speak to your pediatrician about your child using a weighted blanket.
There have been rare tragedies where children have been trapped inside a weighted blanket. A 9-year-old with autism died rolled up in a weighted blanket in Quebec, and a 7-month-old infant. Dr Temple Grandin, a pioneer in the study of deep touch and autism, says that weighted blankets shouldn't be used on children under 7 or 8 years. If your pediatrician gives you the green light for a weighted blanket for your child, make sure that you're using a light blanket that they can easily move themselves.
Dr Cusin recommends that people with sleep apnea (or other sleep disorders), respiratory problems, or other chronic medical conditions shouldn't use weighted blankets. Weighted blankets may also cause problems for children with asthma or claustrophobia.
Beads and Filler Material
Plastic beads are cheaper and have a few disadvantages:
- They contain propylene, which contains trace amounts of fire retardants and other toxins that may be unhealthy, and may aggravate children's allergies.
- They're loud and may disturb your child's sleep when they move. This can especially be a problem if your child suffers from sensory disorders.
Steel shot is much less common than plastic or glass. The beads are larger, making them less likely to leak through the stitching. They're also durable, smooth (so they don't collect dirt, making them less likely to accumulate allergens). But they're noisy.
Micro Glass Beads
Our favorite choice is micro glass beads, which are more expensive than plastic. Glass is environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic, and quiet.
Smaller Pockets and Added Filler
When the beads inside sewn pockets shift to one side, you get uneven pressure or too much pressure in one area, and no pressure in the other area. Many companies have resorted to sewing smaller pockets to reduce the amount of shifting that occurs, but some companies are now adding fillers to their pockets, which can stop the shifting altogether.
A completely different way to add weight to a blanket is instead of adding pellets to pockets in the blanket, make the blanket larger with a knit pattern. This eliminates the problem of beads shifting and making noise. Many people prefer the look of knit blankets, though they are often significantly more expensive.
Criteria to Review the Top Weighted Blankets
We used several criteria for evaluating our top choices:
- Pocket size: cheaper blankets tend to have larger pockets because there's less stitching involved. Larger pockets result in the beads or filling inside shifting more, resulting in less even distribution of the pressure on the user.
- Fabric quality & feel: low-quality fabrics don't give the sleeper a sense of comfort that a softer, higher-quality blanket will. Fabric quality is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). A high GSM count will give a blanket a velvety feel.
- Look: most people want a weighted blanket that looks good on the bed or couch.
- Stitching: some blankets don't reinforce their stitching, resulting in the beads leaking out of the pockets.
- Bead material: plastic beads don't weigh as much, so you will need more to create weight in the blanket, resulting in a bigger blanket. Glass beads are non-toxic, smaller, and make less noise when you move.
- Return policy: higher-quality blankets tend to have better warranties and return policies.
Some other criteria that you should consider:
- Washing: some blankets can only be hand washed and/or hang dried, which may be inconvenient for some people. And some blankets are in 2 pieces, one is the blanket, and the other is the cover, which may have to be washed separately.
- Color and size options: all of our top choices offer kid-friendly designs.
The Best Weighted Blankets for Kids
- Very soft
- 21 colors available, including navy dinosaur, nautical, white nautical, and pink unicorn
- 5 lbs to 30 lbs available
- 7-layer design that evenly distributes weight across the body
- Coolmax fabric is breathable
- Oeko-Tex Certified (free from toxic chemicals and a higher standard than organic)
- Small pockets to prevent bunching
- Double-stitched seams
- Non-toxic glass beads
- Wash in cold water on a gentle setting or hand wash; hang dry or tumble on low heat
- 1% of sales donated to Mental Health of America
- 100-night trial
Best Budget Choice
- 5 lbs, 7 lbs, and 10 lbs available
- 5 colors available: blue zoo animals, pink cat, pink panther, pink zoo animals, white alphabet
- 100% cotton
- Made with glass beads (odorless and non-toxic)
- Anti-leakage protection keeps the beads in place and from leaking out of their pockets
- Machine washable on cold and air dry
- Has 6 loops to attach to the duvet cover
- Lifetime warranty and 30-day refund
- One side is minky (100% polyester), which is warmer and feels like fleece, and the other side is bamboo, which is cooler
- Available in 5 lbs, 7 lbs, 10 lbs, and 12 lbs
- 36" x 48" and 41" x 60"
- Filled with non-toxic and quiet glass beads
- Available in blue constellation and grey chevron
- The cover is machine washable
Best Weighted Stuffed Animal
- Charley is a 5 lb stuffed animal that's great for car rides, plane rides, study time, or any other time that your child could benefit from a calming influence
- 21" x 21", his weight is distributed among 12 sections
- 180-day warranty
- Lead-free, phthalate-free, nonflammable, approved for child's safety by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Reinforced stitching
- Includes 2 travel bags: a PVC tote bag and a drawstring backpack