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Alescia Ford-Lanza
BY Alescia Ford-Lanza
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Weighted Blankets: What, Why, and How to Find Your Match

Do a simple Google search for “weighted blankets” and 1.5 million results will show up! With that much to choose from, and so much to consider, how do you know which weighted blanket is appropriate for your needs? How are you supposed to sort through and narrow down all of those options? We are taking the time to look at the most important considerations when choosing your weighted blanket and hope that this guide will help you find your just-right fit.

What are Weighted Blankets?

Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like: blankets that are weighted! People drape the weighted blankets on their bodies when sitting or sleeping. The weight of the blanket provides proprioceptive, or deep touch pressure, to your entire body which helps to regulate the central nervous system and promote calm, relaxation, and improved sleep.

Your central nervous system responds to the deep pressure of a weighted blanket by releasing serotonin and melatonin and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol. We know that melatonin plays a critical role in regulating the circadian rhythms that impact our sleep/wake cycles. Serotonin is a hormone that regulates one’s mood and central nervous system functions. By increasing these happy hormones, weighted blankets have been shown to improve one’s mood and positively affect one’s sleep.

Who could use a weighted blanket?

Diagnoses like ADHD, autism, sensory processing dysfunction, emotional regulation difficulties, PTSD, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders affect an increasing percentage of our population, in children, teens, and adults.

While many of the people with these diagnoses benefit from pharmacological intervention, some of those same people are turning to weighted blankets as a non-medical, sensory-based intervention that supports their regulation.

Children, teens, and adults alike can benefit from a weighted blanket. Research indicates potential positive effects of weighted blanket use for reducing anxiety, lowering physiological indicators of stress (blood pressure, pulse rate), positive calming effects, and positive impacts on sleep time and behavior. Some inpatient psychiatric units are turning to weighted blankets to promote regulation in adults with mental illnesses both proactively, and in crisis situations, in lieu of seclusion and restraint practices.

Different types of weighted blankets

When looking at the weighted blankets available on the retail market, they range from homemade DIY specials to custom-designs to mass-produced. Some weighted blankets are specifically designed for children, while others are geared towards the adult market. No matter who the user is, weighted blankets should be designed to provide 10% of the user’s total body weight plus or minus 1-2 pounds. Some blankets are available based on youth sizes (height/weight combination factors) and weighted bed blankets are available in twin, double/queen, and king size for couples. The factors for blanket size, total weight, and number of users (single/couple) all impact the type of blanket one would purchase.

Weighted blankets can differ in the overall construction design as well as how they are weighted. Some weighted blankets are constructed similarly to a down-filled comforter in that the design of each ‘box’ or compartment contains a weighted material, much like the down comforter would contain feathers. Other weighted blankets are constructed in a channel compartment design that contains the material. The box-compartment or channel compartment construction allows for the weighted material to be evenly distributed throughout the blanket so that, when draped over the body, the weight is then distributed evenly over the body.  

The interior contents of a weighted blanket are another point of difference between products. Some DIY blankets are filled with food products like rice or beans which can mold and degrade over time. Other weighted contents can include polyfill, glass beads, and poly pellets.

Not all outer layers of weighted blankets are created equal. Just like you would put your down comforter inside of a fabric shell, some weighted blankets offer a washable outer layer that can be customized by fabric texture, color, or pattern. Other weighted blankets are constructed fully sewn together, making the entire blanket washable but the cover is not removable. When the entire blanket needs to be washed, this is when the interior material contents are most importantly considered!

What to look for when purchasing a weighted blanket

Material

What is the fabric/texture/pattern? Some blankets allow for customization in color, characters, and material texture (cotton vs. flannel vs. plush). Choose something that appeals to your child’s sensory preferences but isn’t overly distracting. A Pokemon printed weighted blanket might be too exciting of a character pattern to promote calm and relaxation! Similarly, the fabric should be snuggly and soothing, not scratchy and stiff if you want your child to enjoy sleeping with the blanket.

Outer Fabric Layer of the Blanket

Is there an outer fabric layer that is secured with Velcro, zippers, or buttons? Or, is the outer layer sewn closed and not removable? The design and construction of this outer layer may affect washability and durability.

Washability

Is the cover removable to throw in the wash whenever necessary? or does the entire blanket need to be washed together? If you have a bed-sized weighted blanket without a removable cover, this could require professional laundering so you don’t max out your washer/dryer’s capabilities!

If your child frequently wets the bed, you’ll want to check to see if the blanket is washable, spot-treatable, or just wipeable. Some weighted blankets can be made out of waterproof fabric so you’ll want to consider adding that customization if you know bed-wetting is a problem.

Interior construction

How is the interior weight distributed? You want to make sure that the weighted material rests over as much of the body as possible, so the construction of the blanket is an important consideration. Are there sewn-in channels or boxes to contain the weight evenly? This is important to consider as the weights will inevitably shift with use and make your blanket lopsided and awkward if the design does not support even distribution.

Weighted Material

Cotton fill, polyfill, poly pellets, glass bead, or DIY filler? The contents in your weighted blanket will affect washability and durability.

Total Weight of the Blanket 

A good rule of thumb is 10% of the user’s total body weight +/- 1-2lbs. Size up slightly if you’re buying for a child because they will inevitably grow! For adults, consider a couple-weighted blanket that takes multiple users’ total body weight into account.

Cost

We spend a good part of everyday sleeping. For some, that investment in sleep is worth more than it is to others. If you are buying a weighted blanket for a child, you may not want to spend as much as you would if you were an adult user who will not grow out of the weighted blanket. On the other hand, if you are a sleepless parent of a sleepless child you may be willing to spend way more than the average user for a good night sleep! The cost of a weighted blanket ranges almost as much as the variations in the products themselves. There is no good guideline for how much to spend on a weighted blanket. It’s really a matter of how much it’s worth to you as the beneficiary.

Company reviews & return policies 

If you’re a first-time buyer of a sensory-based product like weighted blankets, you’ll want some reassurance that the company stands behind their product in case it doesn’t work out for you! After all, these can be moderately-expensive investments so you want to get what you are paying for! Some companies have a return policy with a lifetime guarantee, some have a trade-in and trade-up programs for growing users. Always read the company reviews on social media in addition to what is posted on company websites.

Takeaways

In the end, the weighted blanket that you choose to buy is based on your own personal style, sensory, and design preferences. When you follow the guidelines for the total weight of the blanket, the research supporting the efficacy of this sensory-based intervention remains the same. The other points of consideration are a matter of preference: from what you weight your blanket with, to what you cover your blanket with. So, start your Google search and shop around for your “just right” fit!


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Alescia Ford-Lanza

Written on October 4, 2017 by:

Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Practitioner with over 15 years of pediatric experience. She specializes in educationally-relevant interventions with a focus on sensory integration and assistive technology supports to learning. Alescia is a therapist, consultant, and speaker who works to inform parents, inspire teachers, and include children of all abilities! Alescia founded Adapt & Learn, LLC. on the mission that children of all abilities can play, learn, adapt, and develop with the right therapeutic and educational supports. Alescia strives to help children along this continuum by fostering a love of learning. You can find more information about Alescia and her practice at wwwadaptandlearn.com and on Facebook or Pinterest @adaptlearn.
  • Red Barn Blankets

    Well, while it is neither here nor there, a Google search for Weighted Blankets returns ~500,000 results … only off by 1,000,000. More importantly you repeat what is the most common piece of misinformation about weighted blankets which is the “10%” myth about weight. This is one of the things we spend a great deal of time on, trying to educate people who purchase weighted blankets. The idea that the blanket should be 10% of the person’s body weight plus or minus a pound is simply wrong.

    The notion of 10% of body weight actually comes from one or two studies on injuries caused by school backpacks in children and in those studies it is a limit beyond which injury may occur and NOT a recommendation for proper weight. Secondly, even without the aforementioned studies, the concept itself is obviously flawed. It is not about static weight since blankets are made in various sizes from small to king size. It is about the amount of pressure it provides. A 10 pound queen size blanket will provide far less pressure than a 10 pound small blanket because the weight is distributed over a much greater area. Lastly, in a weighted blanket the majority of the weight is borne by the mattress and not the person using it therefore a static weight is meaningless in determining what will help.

    Hope this helps,

    Karlton and Irlanda
    Red Barn Blankets

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