What is a weighted blanket?
Therapists often recommend that people with autism use weighted blankets for sleep and relaxation.
But what is a weighted blanket? And how does it help?
A weighted blanket is exactly what it says: a blanket that is filled with beads or pellets to make it heavier than an ordinary blanket.
Many people on the autism spectrum find this extra weight comforting.
This is because weighted blankets cause Deep Pressure Touch on your body. And Deep Pressure Touch causes physical changes in your body that calm anxiety and help you sleep.
It simply feels like a hug.
So, let’s look more closely at how Deep Pressure Touch works.
The Deep Pressure Touch caused by a weighted blanket is a firm but gentle pressure. It acts on the two parts of your central nervous system to calm and soothe you.
How Deep Pressure Touch works
The first part of your body’s central nervous system is called the sympathetic nervous system. This is the “fight or flight” response. Your sympathetic nervous system is in charge of your body whenever you are stressed, anxious or facing a dangerous situation.
You will feel extremely tired, perpetually highly anxious, stressed and overwhelmed if your sympathetic nervous system is in control of your body for long time periods.
Deep Pressure Touch calms your body in three stages
Deep Pressure Touch switches off the sympathetic nervous system and removes those feelings of agitation, fear, stress or anxiety.
It then switches on the second part of your central nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system calms both your mind and your body. It works to slow your heart rate, your breathing and relaxes your muscles.
This brings feelings of peace and calm.
Then, the parasympathetic system also releases endorphins. These are the “feel good” homones that exercise triggers.
Lastly, the parasympathetic system releases neurotransmitters that also lift the mood.
These include serotonin. Serotonin helps you sleep. It also regulates memory, appetite, digestion, mood and social behaviour.
How does a weighted blanket help someone with autism?
Therapists endorse using weighted blankets to help people with autism because they:
- Help you sleep better;
- Make you feel less anxious;
- May reduce the frequency and length of meltdown episodes;
- Can improve transition time between activities; and
- Give sensory input.
Let’s unpack each of these in turn.
Weighted blankets help you sleep better
The Deep Pressure Touch provided by weighted blankets help people with autism sleep better in three ways.
- The calming effect makes you feel less anxious. And so, it is easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.
- Serotonin helps people fall asleep. So, as the Deep Pressure Touch causes the central nervous system to release serotonin, you will feel sleepy.
- One clinical study found that sleeping under a heavy mattress triggered the body to release cortisol – the anti-stress hormone.
In addition, many people on the autism spectrum report feeling as if they are “floating” in bed. A weighted blanket helps you feel more grounded. And that can help you relax and sleep.
So, to summarise. You will sleep better under a weighted blanket because you feel sleepy, less anxious and less stressed.
Weighted blankets make you feel less anxious
Many people with autism can spend time feeling overwhelmed by too much sensory input in the form of light, sound and touch.
The calming effect of Deep Pressure Touch helps relieve this high – and constant – sense of anxiety.
Weighted blankets may help meltdown episodes
A number of our customers – both parents and teachers – may noticed that weighted blankets seem to help with managing meltdowns in two ways.
Firstly, some parents have found that if they encourage their child to sit or lie under a weighted blanket as they notice the signs of an impending meltdown that said meltdown is either shorter and less extreme than usual. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.
Secondly, some of our customers say that placing a weighted blanket over a child having a meltdown can shorten the episode.
Once again, this is likely due to the combined effects of what the Deep Pressure Touch triggers.
But there is an interesting theory that many people with autism have low levels of serotonin in their brain.
And this might aggravate some autism traits.
So, the Deep Pressure Touch-related release of serotonin may also have the beneficial effect of relieving social anxiety. You can read more in this article.
Weighted blankets can improve transition time between activities
Some of our customers who are teachers have told us that they find using weighted blankets helps children with autism manage the change from one activity to another better.
It seems that the comforting action of Deep Pressure Touch gives them mental space to stop doing one thing and start doing a different activity.
Weighted blankets give sensory input
Many people with autism also have sensory sensitivities. Weighted blankets can help them deal with their feelings of being overwhelmed by providing Deep Pressure Touch’s sensory input.
Every weighted blanket should have three characteristics to maximise its Deep Pressure Touch benefits. These will help you calm down and sleep better.
- The weight should be spread evenly through it, without any “bunching” or “pooling” of the weight.
- It should be the correct weight for the individual user.
- The weight needs to be evenly distributed through the weighted blanket.
Every weighted blanket should have the weight spread evenly through the blanket to deliver the best sleep-enhancing Deep Pressure Touch effect
At Calming Moments we sew equal weights of our micro beads into evenly spaced pockets throughout the blanket. Each pocket is triple-stitched, so that you can be sure that they will not break and have the beads slide into other pockets.
However, this is not enough to keep the micro glass beads evenly distributed through it.
So, we fill each blanket with two layers of wadding. This spreads the beads evenly through each pocket. So, the blanket will feel heavy, but you won’t be able to feel the individual beads. And they don’t bunch or pool.
The weight must be evenly spread through the blanket to maximise its Deep Pressure Touch so that you can sleep better for longer.
But even this alone is not enough to make sure that you get the correct Deep Pressure Touch on your body to get you the best sleep result.
Every weighted blanket should be custom-made for the individual user
Occupational Therapists recommend that single bed weighted blankets should be 10% of the user’s body weight. (We recommend adding extra weight for the larger blankets as the weight is spread over a larger area.)
We all have different body weights.
Yet, most mass-produced weighted blankets come in a limited number of weights.
At Calming Moments, we custom make each blanket to order. We offer over 20 different weight options for our weighted bed blankets. These start at 1.5kg and increase in 0.5kg increments up to 12kg.
This means that you can get the exact weight blanket that will deliver the correct Deep Pressure Touch that will help your unique body sleep better for longer.
Please click the button below to browse our premium quality, Australian-made weighted blanket ranges.
Our Customers' Real-Life Stories
“SHE FELL ASLEEP EASILY”
My daughter who has ASD and anxiety received her blanket yesterday and for the first time she fell asleep easily and slept all night.
– Sarah E
“SUCH WONDERFUL WORKMANSHIP”
We had one made for our beautiful, Autistic daughter.
Such wonderful workmanship and she has been sleeping so very well since.
I can’t thank you enough!
– Pamela M
Recommended by Occupational Therapists
“I cannot speak any more highly of your products! The craftsmanship is perfection and the prices realistic!
I have placed many orders with you and your communication, timeliness of delivery and of course product quality is second to none!
I am a loyal customer! Well Done and THANK YOU!”
-Amy H from Amy’s OT