The study explored the impact of weighted blankets on sleep for foster care children, aiming to understand potential benefits for a group with high rates of sleep disturbances.


Summary: A University of Houston study investigated whether weighted blankets improve sleep for foster care children, a group prone to sleep problems. The study involved 30 children, aged 6 to 15, using weighted and regular blankets in a randomized order. Sleep was monitored with diaries and actigraphs. Results showed no significant differences in sleep variables like total sleep time or quality. The study found no effects based on age, sex, or trauma history, suggesting weighted blankets do not enhance sleep for this population.

Key Takeaways: 

  • A University of Houston study found no significant differences in sleep variables, such as total sleep time, sleep onset latency, wake minutes after sleep onset, or sleep quality ratings, between weighted and regular blankets for foster care children.
  • he research involved 30 children, aged 6 to 15, adopted from foster care in Texas, who used weighted and regular blankets in a randomized order over a month, with sleep monitored using sleep diaries and actigraphs.
  • The study also determined that factors such as child age, sex, or history of maltreatment and trauma did not influence the sleep outcomes, indicating that weighted blankets do not provide sleep benefits for this specific group.

A study has found that weighted blankets, between five and 10 pounds, do not improve sleep for children who have experienced various types of maltreatment including abuse or neglect.

The popularity of weighted blankets has soared in recent years, largely based on the idea that the pressure of a heavy blanket induces feelings of relaxation and calm that help us fall asleep. Yet surprisingly little research has examined claims of improved sleep, particularly among children.

Study Details and Methodology

The study, led by University of Houston sleep expert and psychology professor Candice Alfanoco, PhD, DBSM, and published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, included 30 children, aged 6-to-15 years old, adopted from foster care in Texas. The group was asked to use a weighted blanket for two weeks and their usual blanket for two weeks at home in random order. Sleep was monitored continuously for one month using both sleep diaries and actigraphs. An actigraph is a wristwatch-like device that reliably tracks sleep-wake patterns.

“We were somewhat surprised to find no differences in either objective or subjective sleep variables based on blanket type, including total sleep time, sleep onset latency, wake minutes after sleep onset, or sleep quality ratings. We also explored whether child age, sex, or maltreatment/trauma history might have influenced outcomes, but no such effects were found,” says Alfano, who is also director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston at the University of Houston.

Sleep Problems in Foster Care Children

Alfano’s research has routinely found that, even after adoption, a large proportion of children who spend time in foster care have persistent sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, nightmares, and/or parasomnias.

“We have heard from at least some foster and adoptive parents that a weighted blanket has seemed to help their child sleep better, so we wondered,” says Alfano in a release. “Childhood maltreatment can produce sleep problems via multiple pathways, including hyperarousal of the body’s stress response systems and/or feelings of increased fear and insecurity at night. Theoretically, use of the weighted blanket might reduce these symptoms and improve sleep.”

Unfortunately, that is not what the research found.

Need for Further Research

Alfano emphasized, however, that this study is not the final word. “Children who have histories of maltreatment are a very diverse group, so more well-controlled studies using larger samples of children are still needed,” says Alfano in a release.

The study was co-authored by doctoral students Anthony B. Cifre and Alyssa Vieira.

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