You can’t stroll through retail stores without seeing weighted blankets on the shelf. If you’ve wondered if they live up to the hype, you’re not alone – there is science behind why they work, especially for children with anxiety or sensory processing difficulties.
A weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like: a heavy blanket with evenly distributed weight that provides deep pressure while your child is sleeping. The deep pressure is similar to a hug and is grounding. Each of these actions affects hormone levels, easing your child’s anxiety, while providing sensory input.
Deep pressure stimulates oxytocin, decreases cortisol, and creates serotonin.
Oxytocin is classified as one of the “happy hormones” as it is known to have a positive impact on emotions and mood. Weighted blankets activate oxytocin production, which stimulates feelings of attachment and a deep sense of calm (think about the relaxing feeling of a hug—that’s oxytocin at work).
Weighted blankets keep your child grounded. According to research, grounding the body or weighing it down decreases the stress hormone cortisol during sleep.
Research also shows that deep pressure increases serotonin, another “happy hormone” that helps your child relax and sleep. Serotonin regulates energy levels and stabilizes mood. When Serotonin is low it can lead to emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, and disrupt sleep-wake cycles. Keeping serotonin levels healthy is one way to encourage healthy sleep patterns.
Serotonin is what’s known as a “precursor” to melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. A “precursor” is a chemical that is needed to make another chemical. The body makes melatonin from serotonin through a chemical process. Thus, if serotonin levels are low, healthy, sleep-promoting levels of melatonin are also at risk.
When choosing a weighted blanket for your child, look for a weight that is 5 percent of your child’s body weight. My favorite is Nuzzie, a knitted weighted blanket, that doesn’t add heat due to its open weave design. The filling is recycled from over 500 plastic bottles that would have ended up polluting the earth.
A weighted blanket is just one way to gain deep pressure, aerial yoga also provides deep pressure as the hammock wraps around you similar to a hug or a big squeeze. Want to learn more ways to help children relax? Sign up for our Module Two Teacher Training! We have online and in-person trainings – come hang out with us.
Ghaly M, Teplitz D. The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Oct;10(5):767-76. doi: 10.1089/acm.2004.10.767. PMID: 15650465.