originally written for FriendshipCircle.org
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 polyfil, 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 removeable 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 removeable 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, polyfil, 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 every day 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 full refund, some have 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.
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 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!