For some parents, weighted blankets have become another popular item to add to their crowded shopping list of nursery items. Due to manufacturers’ claims of improving a child’s sleep, any parent could be forgiven for thinking a weighted blanket is worth a try.
But when it comes to putting any item on, around or close to a sleeping child, it’s best to check on its effectiveness and safety. And there is a lack of weighty research behind weighted blankets.
What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets are sometimes called sensory, calming or anxiety blankets. They are a heavy quilt with pockets filled with sand, glass beads, barley or plastic weights, evenly distributed throughout the quilt.
The weight of the blanket is said to help calm and soothe a child – similar to a close hug. They range in price from $150-$200 for a single bed up to $300 for a queen-size bed.
Weighted blankets were originally recommended by occupational therapists working with children with sensory processing disorders, including ASD (autism spectrum disorder). In theory, the pressure of the weighted blanket has a positive, calming effect on a child experiencing over-arousal of their nervous system.
However, what was intended only as a temporary, calming tool used under close supervision has now become something else entirely.
Who are weighted blankets for?
Although intended for certain children, some adults claim that using a weighted blanket helps them to feel less anxious and calm down quickly if they’re feeling stressed. Others, who experience insomnia and other sleep disorders, feel that using a weighted blanket may be helpful for them.
Many parents are becoming increasingly interested in seeing if a weighted blanket would be useful in supporting improved sleeping behaviours for their young children.
It’s important to understand that while healthy adults can choose to use a weighted blanket safely, young children can become trapped underneath its weight.
Most manufacturers' claim that weighted blankets should not be used for children under 4 years old. But there’s not enough evidence to say they are safe for any age or stage of childhood.
What the scientific evidence says about weighted blankets
There is very little research on the safety aspects of weighted blankets or their usefulness in improving children’s sleep.
Although many manufacturers publish positive blog posts from satisfied clients, there is a lack of clear evidence to say they work. In fact, they may be harmful — especially if used incorrectly.
Safe-sleeping experts, Red Nose, advise against loose bedding for children, particularly when they’re in a cot. This is because blankets and bed clothing can cover the baby’s head and face, increasing the risk of overheating and suffocation. Young children may not have the mobility or strength to get out from under a weighted blanket.
The risks of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is also increased when a baby is sleeping prone (on their tummy), and this increases again when they’re under heavy bedding. The weighted beads also pose a choking risk if they escape from the blanket’s pockets.
Is it safe to use a weighted blanket during pregnancy?
There’s not enough clear evidence to say whether weighted blankets are safe for pregnant women.
Sleeping on your side will help to ensure the blood flow to your baby is not restricted. Either side is fine, but especially from 28 weeks of pregnancy, women should go to sleep on their side and roll back onto their side if they wake up on their back.
What can I do about sleep and anxiety?
Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, and good sleep habits can make a big difference. Avoid using your phone or device for at least 1 hour before bed. Avoid stimulants – such as coffee, cola drinks and chocolate – in the late afternoon and evening.
Where can I go for more information and advice?
- Speak with your GP and healthcare provider if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Seek professional support from a child health nurse or paediatrician for support with your child’s sleeping issues.
- Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.
If you’re feeling anxious, you can contact: