A weighted blanket is a lot more than just a "heavier than normal" blanket. Available in a wide range of weights, sizes and colors, weighted blankets offer therapeutic benefits for a broad number of health conditions, including anxiety, ADD/ADHD, autism and sensory processing disorder. Weighted blankets can also ease the symptoms of depression, insomnia and fibromyalgia. Here is a comprehensive guide to weighted blankets, along with helpful tips for ordering one for you or a loved one.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
Many people in the autism and sensory processing disorder communities are familiar with Dr. Temple Grandin — one of the foremost experts and researchers on autism and related disorders. During a summer vacation as a teenager, Dr. Grandin observed cattle being led through a squeeze chute as they received vaccinations. Veterinarians had developed the chute as a way to keep the cattle still for their shots. While the squeeze chute did a great job of holding the cows in place, it also noticeably calmed them. Dr. Grandin’s observations — and her personal experiences as someone on the autism spectrum — prompted her to create a similar device for humans.
Hence, her famous “hug machine” or “squeeze machine” was born. As the name implies, the squeeze machine provides gentle, consistent pressure all over the body. It’s similar to a hug without involving the touch of another person. Because many people with autism don’t like to be touched by others, the squeeze machine delivers all of the benefits and soothing of a hug while allowing the autistic person to maintain his or her personal space.
The science behind the squeeze machine is that it mimics deep pressure touch — a type of occupational therapy that has been shown to reduce anxiety in individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder. As Dr. Grandin describes it, “Deep pressure touch has been found to have beneficial effects in a variety of clinical settings.”
Dr. Grandin has studied deep pressure touch in both children and adults. Unlike other researchers, her own experiences with autism and sensory processing disorder give her insight into the effectiveness of deep pressure touch therapy.
For example, she talks about wanting hugs as a child but sometimes being unable to stand the sensation of being touched. “As a child, I craved to feel the comfort of being held, but I would pull away when people hugged me. When hugged, an overwhelming tidal wave of sensation flowed through me. At times, I preferred such intense stimulation to the point of pain, rather than accept ordinary hugs.”
While Dr. Grandin’s squeeze machine revolutionized the way scientists and medical professionals view and treat autism, the machine itself is quite costly to build. Models vary, with some squeeze machines priced at over $6,500. Obviously, this is out of range for most people.
Fortunately, there is a way to replicate the benefits of the squeeze machine without breaking the bank. Research has shown that weighted blankets offer a number of benefits that may help people with autism, sensory processing disorder, insomnia, fibromyalgia and many other health conditions. According to a presentation given by the American Occupational Therapy Association, “Over time, interdisciplinary staff recognized [the weighted blanket’s] influence as an individualized, multi-sensory modality that also appeared to decrease the need for the use of seclusion and restraint.”
What Do Weighted Blankets Do?
Just like Dr. Grandin’s squeeze machine, weighted blankets work by applying gentle pressure throughout the body. By using deep pressure touch, they may also help with an individual’s proprioception — the body’s ability to sense the world through receptors in the skin, muscles and joints. In children and adults with sensory processing disorders, this ability to sense oneself in the world is often compromised.
As Shannon Phelan at North Shore Pediatric Therapy explains, “To get an idea of how the proprioceptive system works, imagine closing your eyes and having someone move your arms to an extended position in front of you. Even though you can’t see them, you can feel that your arms are outstretched. Now if someone were to place 10-pound weights in each hand, your proprioceptive system would signal for you to make one of two decisions. Either let your arms fall to your sides due to the increased force or contract your muscles with greater effort to match it.”
However, people with sensory processing disorders have difficulty with proprioceptive processing. In other words, their senses don’t always give them an accurate reading of their environment. They might bang their head on the ground, deliberately bump into things or prefer to wear clothing that is too tight. It’s common for children who have proprioception challenges to play too rough or stomp their feet when they walk.
Occupational therapists and other health professionals who treat sensory processing disorders frequently recommend proprioceptive input as a strategy for inducing calm and reducing anxiety. Activities may include chewing food that requires a lot of jaw power, pushing and pulling heavier objects and burrowing under a weighted blanket.
Through deep pressure touch, weighted blankets have also been shown to boost serotonin — the “happiness” hormone in the brain. A study conducted by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that individuals who were “grounded” during sleep experienced reductions in their pain, stress and sleep dysfunction. Study participants also had lower levels of cortisone — the stress hormone — in their saliva.
Another study published in the Journal of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health found that weighted blankets are an effective calming tool for sleep. Specifically, researchers saw lower anxiety levels in test subjects who slept under a 30-pound weighted blanket. According to the occupational therapists behind the study, “78% [of study participants] preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.”
How Heavy Should a Weighted Blanket Be?
When it comes to choosing a weighted blanket, many people want to know how heavy they should make their weighted blanket. The short answer is that it depends on the person’s needs and preferences. However, we at SensaCalm like to offer general guidelines based on our years of experience as the industry leader in weighted blankets.
First, keep in mind that your weighted blanket should be sized to fit your body and not your bed. If you’re ordering a weighted blanket for a child, we also recommend that you select a size and weight that fits your child’s body instead of his or her bed. This is to help the user get the most benefits of deep pressure touch therapy. It also prevents the weighted blanket from sliding to the floor under its own weight.
Curious about weight and size guidelines for your weighted blanket? Use our guide below as a starting point. You can also contact us to speak with a helpful customer service representative about your specific needs and preferences.
Weighted Blankets for Toddlers - Remember that you should avoid using a weighted blanket for children under one year old. Additionally, talk to your physician or occupational therapist before purchasing a weighted blanket for your child. In kids between age 1 and 6, we suggest using a size Small weighted blanket with a weight that is 10 percent plus one pound of the child’s body weight.
Weighted Blankets for Elementary Age Children - If your child is between the ages of 6 and 12, we recommend a size Medium weighted blanket. You calculate the weight of the blanket by taking 10 percent of the child’s body weight and adding two pounds.
- Weighted Blankets for Teenagers and Adults - For people age 13 and older, we suggest a size Large weighted blanket with a weight that is 10 percent of the user’s body weight plus three pounds.
Full and Queen Size Weighted Blankets - For larger individuals, or couples who wish to share a weighted blanket at night, we recommend a Full or Queen size. Keep in mind, however, that weighted blankets work best when they lay on top of the mattress without any overhang like you would see on a typical bedspread or comforter. This design prevents the weighted blanket from pulling off the body and falling to the floor during use.
Weighted Blankets for Men - As we note in our How to Buy section, men sometimes find that a Large size weighted blanket is too narrow. For this reason, many choose to purchase the Full size, which measures 56 inches by 72 inches.
- Weighted Blankets for Women - In most cases, women prefer the Large size weighted blanket. As with all of our blankets, we will work with you to find the best weight and size for you.
These weight guidelines are just that — general guidelines. You may prefer a lighter or heavier weight. SensaCalm offers a return policy, and we’ll work with you to help you choose the perfect weighted blanket for your needs.
Cuddle Fleece for Autism and Anxiety
Whether you’re buying a weighted blanket as a calming tool for sleep, or you would like to use your blanket to help ease the symptoms of autism, sensory processing disorder or anxiety, many weighted blanket users find that adding Cuddle Fleece as a backing to their blanket enhances the proprioceptive input benefits.
Parents will recognize this phenomenon in babies and children who self-soothe by rubbing the satin edge or soft fabric backing of a favorite blanket or toy between their fingers or along their cheek. In fact, research shows that many people carry this behavior into adulthood, as it promotes the release of oxytocin in the brain. If you enjoy zipping up a soft fleece hoodie or snuggling under a down comforter in the winter, you’ve probably experienced the benefits of self-soothing.
At SensaCalm, we build this benefit into our weighted blankets. Our Cuddle Fleece backing is extremely soft and adds an additional sensory component to the weighted blanket. In our patterned fabric, we select a Cuddle Fleece backing color that complements the primary pattern.
With our Supreme Solid color options, we invite our customers to choose the Cuddle Fleece color of their choice. For our Gallery Section fabrics, we generally don’t offer the Cuddle Fleece option, as the fleeces clash with these fabrics. However, we will create a Gallery Section weighted blanket with Cuddle Fleece as a custom order if you prefer.
Polyfil and Your Weighted Blanket
To create the weight in our weighted blankets, we use poly pellets, which are the same polypropylene pellets used to stuff small bean bags and many types of stuffed bears and plush toys. To give our blankets the fluffy, comfortable texture of any typical blanket, we also stuff them with polyfil polyester fiber. Together, these items make for a soothing, comfortable blanket that is both weighted and warm.
However, if you live in a very hot climate, you may find that the polyfil fiber is too warm for your comfort. Most of our weighted blanket users who live in warmer climates find that the polyfil is quite comfortable and not too hot, so this is rarely a problem. Additionally, we’ve heard from many parents and adult users that the polyfil helps the blanket look more like a regular blanket rather than a blanket designed specifically for therapy. If you’re concerned about your blanket being too warm where you live, contact us to chat with one of our weighted blanket experts.
Weighted Blankets for Autism, Insomnia and More Restful Sleep
Weighted blankets may help address the symptoms of autism, insomnia and many other health conditions. At SensaCalm, we have weighted blankets ready to ship today, and we also make custom-order blankets sewn to your exact specifications. We’ll even use your fabric of choice! Give us a call at 855-736-7222 to learn more. You can also reach us online through our contact form.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.