The theory around weighted blankets is that they can help treat anxiety by relaxing the nervous system and offer relief from restless legs, insomnia, and other ailments. But are they safe for kids?
“It’s hypothesized that the deep pressure and more consistent sensory input provided by these weighted items reduces the level of arousal and stress which our body physiologically has,” explains Dr. Amna Husain, pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics. It sounds complicated, but essentially, the soothing effects of a weighted blanket are similar to those you might feel upon receiving a hug when you’re upset or anxious.
Pediatric occupational therapist Natasha Bravo likens weighted blankets to baby swaddles. “When a baby is swaddled, they are experiencing evenly distributed pressure around the entire contour of their body which is calming and grounding,” she says of the cocoon-like experience weighted blankets can provide. “Gentle consistent pressure can also impact breathing patterns into more deep and slower breaths.”
The blankets are being used in some educational settings, such as the Manhattan Children’s Center, a school for autism education, to help children feel calm and focused — and to improve their sleep. Indeed, “weighted blankets seem to be the latest trend regarding sleep,” Dr. Husain says. “I’ve seen claims from the fact that they increase serotonin to decreasing anxiety. I do find that it can help reduce restlessness so if you find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, a weighted blanket might be a solution.”
But, she cautions, “the place of weighted blankets in pediatrics still has little data.” She describes a 2014 European study that found weighted blankets were no more effective than regular blankets at improving total sleep time for children with autism. But anecdotally, they seem to work.