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Sleep Science

How a Weighted Blanket Can Help Your Child's Anxiety

Anxiety in children is rising, just like anxiety in adults. A good solution for helping your anxious child is using a weighted blanket.

4 minute read

SLEEP SCIENCE

How a weighted blanket can help your child's anxiety

4 minute read
wonderful weighted weaves girl in napper red

If you have an anxious child who has trouble shutting their mind and body off enough to calm down for naptime or bedtime, you’re not alone. Anxiety in children is rising, just like anxiety in adults. A good solution for helping your anxious child is using a weighted blanket.

While weighted blankets have been used therapeutically by occupational therapists for decades, they are starting to become household items. Historically, weighted blankets have helped children with autism or sensory processing disorders, but we are seeing the benefits in children with anxiety, as well. So cuddle up with your kiddo under a weighted blanket and watch their worries melt away.


How do weighted blankets work?


The mechanism behind weighted blankets is backed by science, but it’s actually super simple. When we lie underneath or get covered with a weighted object, relaxation is not far behind. Think about that heavy lead vest at the dentist’s office when you get X-rays, the calmness of a swaddled baby, or when you’re on the receiving end of a tight, long hug from someone you love. All provide a sense of pressure that is overtly calming and relaxing. The reason? It’s all about hormones!

That pressure you feel has a special name -- Deep Touch Pressure (DTP). When certain points on our bodies get activated by DTP, serotonin gets released. Serotonin is our main happiness neurotransmitter (i.e. brain chemical), which also acts as a hormone, so you start to feel good pretty quickly. Not only does serotonin help regulate our moods and reduce anxiety and depression, but it also helps with digestion. (You know that icky feeling you get in your stomach when you’re super anxious? More serotonin can help calm that.)

This superstar happy hormone is also a precursor for melatonin, which is a well-known hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles and helps us to wind down. If you’re trying to get your child to sleep (or to just relax), this combination of serotonin and melatonin can help get them calmed down in no time.

Lastly, there’s one more hormone in the mix. Cortisol, AKA our stress hormone, is necessary in small amounts, but we don’t want too much of it. Too much cortisol circulating in the body, especially later in the evening, may mean you have trouble winding down for bed, and chronically high cortisol can lead to an increase in mental health conditions, including anxiety. The DTP that a weighted blanket provides can lower our cortisol levels, which contributes to a reduction in stress and anxiety and more peaceful sleep.

Weighted blankets work similarly to grounding, which is essentially pushing your body down closer to the earth, also known as ‘earthing’. While true earthing entails connecting bare feet to natural ground, weighted blankets can provide similar effects (bonus points for anxiety reduction if you do this: bring your kid to the park or beach and actively play with them in the sand or grass, barefoot!)

One study that grounded the body during sleep with a conductive mattress pad found that cortisol levels were significantly reduced and the participants saw improvements in sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress. While it’s not quite practical (or comfortable!) for us to sleep outside on the ground anymore in this day and age, we can mimic some of the benefits of grounding by using a weighted blanket.


Show Me The Research, Please!


If you want the evidence of how weighted blankets work for anxiety, we’ve got some. However, since weighted blankets are relatively new, the research is still growing. As Dr. Cristina Cubin from Harvard Medical School states, "A randomized clinical trial to test the blankets would be very difficult. A blind comparison is impossible because people can automatically tell if the blanket is heavy or not."

However, some studies have shown promising results in adults. This study of 32 adults using a 30-pound weighted blanket found that 63% of them reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% of them preferred using it as a calming method. One often-cited study by Temple Grandin, an autistic professor who created a ‘squeeze machine’ that uses DTP to help combat her anxiety, noticed a calming effect when it was used with autistic children, college students, and animals.

machine

Another study surveyed pediatric occupational therapists, who reported that preschool and elementary-aged children with autism or ADHD who used weighted vests were more likely to have better attention spans and stay on task during class, which could be helpful benefits for children with anxiety jitters, as well.

One final study looked at adults with insomnia and found that using a weighted blanket overnight led to many improved sleep markers, including a calmer night’s sleep. Although the majority of these studies were done with adults, the mechanisms are the same with kids. And, as more research comes out on these topics, we’ll keep you posted!


How Else Can I Help My Child’s Anxiety?


It can be very stressful as a parent to not know how to help your child, especially if they are having an anxiety attack and you don’t know why. For younger kids, psychologists recommend having a coping toolkit handy, which may include physical items, like a stress ball to squeeze or a weighted blanket to use. It can also include intangible items, like focusing on deep breathing.

kid with blanket

Did you know?
Grounding, or earthing, has been studied to reduce pain, improve sleep, and even prevent jet lag if you ‘ground yourself’ when you get to your new location. Get your feet in the grass and try it out!

As your child gets older, talking it out can be very beneficial. Try not to minimize their feelings; after all, we all know it’s not very helpful when someone tells us to “just calm down!” Sometimes our little ones have big feelings, and it’s important to recognize that.

While weighted blankets can be very helpful for at-home use, you can also look to a weighted vest or lap pad for school time or during car rides if those are anxious times for your child.


Bearassentials

• Anxiety in children is a growing concern; using a weighted blanket can help kids to relax and reduce their stress and anxiety.


• Some studies have shown that using a weighted blanket or vest can help reduce anxiety and stress in both adults and children, and the research is still growing.


• Relaxation techniques like meditation, lavender oil, and weighted blankets can help you to get to sleep quicker.

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Did you know?
Grounding, or earthing, has been studied to reduce pain, improve sleep, and even prevent jet lag if you ‘ground yourself’ when you get to your new location. Get your feet in the grass and try it out!


THE LAY LOW

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