Worth its weight

Despite their cost, experts tell parents to reach for weighted blankets to help their kids sleep. Here’s why


Parents everywhere are cozying up to the idea of wrapping up their kids’ stress issues and/or sleep problems inside a weighted blanket.

We know all too well that 2020-2021 has probably been the most stressful year for children (and by extension, for their caregivers) in generations.

Many parents who have used weighted blankets attest that these blankets are helping their offspring cope—the theory behind the idea is that applying pressure to your skin stimulates neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin and that calms your brain—and that they relieve stress.

One group that is benefitting from these blankets is that of people with autism. “The theory of the weighted blankets in autistic children,” says Dr. Judith Leech, co-director of the Ottawa West Sleep Centre, “is one of sensory integration: deep pressure and more consistent sensory input over an area. This (supposedly) reduces the physiologic level of arousal and stress and leads to an effect of calming and relaxation—and hopefully better sleep.”

A weighted blanket is basically a comforter, but instead of being light and fluffy and filled with down or feathers, it’s filled with a heavier material—usually pellets made of glass or a plastic like polyethylene.

General recommendations indicate weighted blankets should be about 10 percent of the user’s body weight. Various studies state these blankets can help people with anxiety, depression, autism, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and/or ADHD. 

Kanata resident Mylene Ouellette says she initially bought one for herself. “I’m a light sleeper who used to toss and turn a lot. (It) helped me feel ‘cocooned’ and I noticed fewer wake interruptions during the night.” 

Now Ouellette’s two children, ages three and five, each have two weighted blankets, “one for their bed and one for movies on the couch.” Ouellette says that, similar to a duvet, she has blankets where she can remove the cover for washing.

Risks of weighted blankets include making breathing more difficult (especially for those asthma) with or may cause sleep apnea or claustrophobia.

Barrhaven father of three Steven Boucher spent over $500 buying two ‘cooling’ weighted blankets for his kids to use. 

He likes them, saying the blankets “hug them and make them feel secure.” His 14-year-old daughter Chloe says the blanket helps her “sleep through the night.” And if a weighted blanket makes you or your child(ren) feel good—then that probably makes it a worthwhile investment.

While studies are scarce, most experts have no qualms about recommending them wholeheartedly. Leech sums it up, saying that not everyone will notice a  physiologic effect. But “if an individual or parent finds them to be effective, great, because less stress (is good). (Therefore) fewer medications may be (needed).” 




About weighted blankets



According to a recent Popular Science story, occupational therapists started using weighted blankets for something called sensory integration therapy with children who have trouble processing their senses—a trait that has closely been linked with autism. 


Stimulating these patients’ senses of touch, weighted blankets apparently helped their brains adapt. It was thought this could help autistic kids better control their emotions and also boost mental health.


“Weighted blankets have embedded metal balls,” says West Ottawa Sleep Centre’s Dr. Judith Leech, “which do not add much thickness or heat but evenly spread weight.” Leach adds that despite a study that indicated “no objective or subjective improvements,” autistic children and their parents have unequivocally favoured the continued use of weighted blankets. 


Only in the last decade or so have researchers become more interested in examining how well they actually work. From that small but growing volume of research, there’s budding evidence that they do help relieve anxiety. Like many consumer products, weighted blankets come with many features, different qualities and price ranges. Expect to spend between $50 and $300 (or more) for one of these blankets.