What is a weighted blanket?

By Nicky Montgomery

Team Leader; Positive Behaviour Support

Weighted blankets are a well known and used resource amongst Occupational Therapists, and if you’ve ever spoken to an occupational therapist about sleep and sensory needs, you may have heard them say “why don’t we try a weighted blanket?”

Weighted blankets have become popular in recent times and you may have seen advertisements for them on TV or social media, but what exactly are weighted blankets? And why might occupational therapists recommend them?

What is a weighted blanket?

A weighted blanket is exactly that; a blanket that is heavier than an ordinary blanket. Glass beads or plastic pellets are sewn into pockets within the blanket to add weight. The pockets are distributed across the blankets to ensure the weight is even, which is important as uneven pressure can lead to bruising, restrict breathing, and cause circulation issues.

Weighted blankets are highly individual in that each user will require a differently weighted blanket, depending on their body weight. It is very important to ensure the weighted blanket is not too heavy for the user.

How do weighted blankets help?

A weighted blanket provides deep pressure to the person lying under it. Deep pressure supports one of our eight sensory systems, the proprioceptive system. This system is a “powerhouse” system, as it is the only system that can both calm and alert us at the same time.

The proprioceptive system provides a sense of body awareness and detects/controls force and pressure. The proprioceptive system also has an important role in sensory processing, as proprioceptive input, such as deep pressure, can assist in controlling responses to sensory stimuli.  As such, proprioceptive input should form the basis of sensory intervention, or what we call a ‘sensory diet’.

A weighted blanket is one of the strategies that an occupational therapist might use in a person’s sensory diet to support their sensory needs. Quite often we will recommend a weighted blanket when a person is having difficulty falling or staying asleep for example.

Do weighted blankets work for everyone?

The short answer is no. Everyone is different and everyone’s sensory needs are unique. Just like a particular medication won’t suit everyone, no one sensory strategy will work for everyone.

When prescribing a weighted blanket, we assess how it alters a person’s behaviour and listen carefully to their feedback. They may only be comfortable using the blanket for a short period before removing it and then trying it for longer next time.

Are weighted blankets safe to use?

Weighted blankets are safe to use when used correctly. If used incorrectly, they can present a significant safety risk. For example, there have been tragic incidents when a weighted blanket incorrectly has led to suffocation due to the blanket being too heavy and/or the person’s head was covered.

At Therapy Focus we always recommend that you consult with your occupational therapist if you are wanting to use a weighted blanket and be mindful of the following:

  • A weighted blanket should be no more than 10% of the person’s body weight if sleeping with it on. Some people will prefer heavier, but this is not recommended for sleep, as it presents a significant safety risk
  • Never use a weighted blanket with a child under the age of 2 years
  • Make sure the person using the weighted blanket can lift it off themselves easily if they need to
  • Do not tuck the blanket into a bed or restrict its movement. A weighted blanket should not cover the whole mattress, it should only cover the person’s body and some of the area around them. It is ok if they kick it off in the night.
  • The blanket should only cover up to their shoulders and must never cover their head.
  • Make sure that the person using the weighted blanket isn’t too hot. Weighted blankets can be warm, especially in summer, so consider whether you need the air conditioner or a fan on during the night. If that isn’t an option, a compression sheet may be a better alternative
  • A weighted blanket can be used for a full night’s sleep, so long as the above rules are enforced

But they’re really expensive!

Yes, in the past weighted blankets have been expensive and in fact, unaffordable. I certainly would never have bought one for myself! But times are changing, and sensory items are becoming more accessible in the mainstream market.

You may have recently seen ads on Facebook or, if you’re a Spotlight member like me, you’ll see they often have them on sale for as little as $50. Even Big W and Kmart are jumping on the weighted blanket bandwagon!

Top tip: If you do buy a weighted blanket, make sure you buy one with a removable cover as they are very hard to wash!

How do I choose the right blanket?

At Therapy Focus, we have a team of qualified and experienced occupational therapists who can help you choose the right weighted blanket. We take the guesswork out of choosing a weighted blanket by offering trials that help ensure your needs are met.

Learn more about occupational therapy services

Our occupational therapists help children and adults with disability participate in everyday life.