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Anyone who has sleep issues or has a child who struggles to get a good night’s sleep will readily admit they’ll do almost anything for some quality slumber. This includes trying out weighted blankets, which have become popular due to claims that they can solve insomnia as well as other issues.
What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets offer a weighted inner section comprised of small pockets filled with sand, seeds or plastic beads. The blankets can range from 4 to 30 pounds, and come in a variety of sizes and at a wide range of prices.
According to manufacturers, weighted blankets offer deep pressure stimulation (DPS), a sensation produced when you are hugged, squeezed or held. Often used by occupational therapists for people with autism and intellectual disabilities, DPS is thought to help relax the nervous system, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and lead to an overall feeling of well-being. It also causes the release of dopamine and serotonin, which can result in improved memory, attention, behavior, sleep and digestion.
What does the research say about weighted blankets?
“Companies selling weighted blankets claim their product helps patients with autism, sleep disorders, hyperactivity and anxiety,” says Dr. Teresa O’Dea, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “However, not only has there been little research as to the effectiveness of these blankets, no safety testing has been performed.”
In fact, a 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) study of the use of weighted blankets on children ages 5 years to 16 years 10 months, with a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, found that the blankets did not help the children fall asleep faster, sleep for longer periods of time or wake less often.
Is it dangerous to use weighted blankets?
While weighted blankets were favored and well-tolerated by the children participating in the study and some parents swear that they help kids sleep, Dr. O’Dea reports that there are dangers to using weighted blankets. There have been at least two known deaths of children — a 9-month-old and 9-year-old — associated with their use.
Furthermore, the AAP recommends that parents always avoid the use of blankets, weighted or otherwise, and other soft items — bedding, pillows, crib bumpers, stuffed animals and toys — in the sleep area for the first year of a child’s life to protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related infant deaths.
What are alternatives to help your child sleep?
Instead of trying a weighted blanket, Dr. O’Dea recommends that parents look to other tried-and-true methods to help babies and children sleep.
“For babies and toddlers with sleep problems, I recommend that parents have a set routine for bedtime,” she says. “This can include a nighttime bath, the last feeding, and a book or a song. For older children and teenagers, I recommend a regular routine along with stopping the use of electronics for one hour before bedtime to help your child relax and ease into sleep.”
Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns about their quality of sleep. Sharp HealthCare offers infant sleep strategy classes to learn techniques that will help you and your baby sleep well.
The Sharp Health News Team are content authors who write and produce stories about Sharp HealthCare and its hospitals, clinics, medical groups and health plan.
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