Weighted Blankets 101

 

weighted blanketThere has been a great deal of interest in weighted blankets lately. Occupational therapists have been using weighted objects for years to calm and organize the sensory system. Weighted blankets may help with anxiety, insomnia, and challenging behaviors for individuals with autism – what a great tool! It can be confusing to know where to get started and how to use them. This information is intended to be a beginner’s guide for the safe use of weighted blankets. As with any therapeutic intervention it is best to seek the advice of a trained healthcare professional first.There has been a great deal of interest in weighted blankets lately. Occupational therapists have been using weighted objects for years to calm and organize the sensory system. Weighted blankets may help with anxiety, insomnia, and challenging behaviors for individuals with autism – what a great tool! It can be confusing to know where to get started and how to use them. This information is intended to be a beginner’s guide for the safe use of weighted blankets. As with any therapeutic intervention it is best to seek the advice of a trained healthcare professional first.But first - how do weighted blankets work?

Deep Pressure Stimulation

Deep pressure is a form of sensory modality. This is a fancy term for something we do all the time: using our senses to feel better. Think about it – do you ever listen to music to feel energized or relaxed? Do you use candles or incense because you enjoy the smell? Do you have a special sweater or blanket that is soft to the touch? Deep pressure is like these other things. It’s the relaxing effect that a baby experiences when swaddled or that you feel when you get a bear hug. Deep pressure engages the proprioceptive system to help lower anxiety and feelings of overstimulation. Deep pressure can be especially helpful for individuals with autism who may have difficulty processing sensory input. Their atypical proprioceptive systems can leave them feeling uncomfortable in their bodies. This often leads to anxiety, overstimulation, and challenging behaviors.

Safety Guidelines

Safety GuidelinesThere are several safety factors to keep in mind when using a weighted blanket. When in doubt, ask a healthcare professional.

  • Individuals should not use a weighted blanket if they have any of the following medical concerns:
    • Respiratory precautions
    • Cardiac/circulatory problems
    • Open wounds or fragile skin
    • Lifting precautions (individual should be able to safely lift the blanket)
    • Orthopedic issues (broken/fractured bones)
  • Consider any history of trauma, especially if the individual experiences claustrophobia
  • The individual must be able to remove the blanket independently if using unsupervised
  • NEVER put a weighted blanket over the head
  • Consider any posture issues when using in a seated position


Always obtain medical clearance if there are any concerns!

Using a Weighted Blanket

Using a Weighted BlanketUsing a weighted blanket should be a calming, positive experience. This means that the individual using the blanket should have as much control as possible. The blanket should NEVER be used as a restraint or forced upon someone who does not want to use it.

  1. Explore blanket weight. While the general guideline for weight is 10% of an individual’s body weight, preferences for weight may vary. As long as the person can safely remove the blanket independently, up to 30 lbs. may be appropriate for an adult.  
  2. Offer the blanket to the individual but allow them to decide when and for how long they want to use it.
  3. Weighted blankets may safely be used seated or lying down. Be sure to monitor posture if using when seated.
  4. Consider safety when determining if a person can use a weighted blanket without direct supervision. Remember, the blanket should never go over the head and must be able to be removed independently.
  5. Monitor any changes in behavior and anxiety levels. It’s important to know if the weighted blanket is providing any benefit.

 

Seated Lying Down
weighted blanket seated weighted blanket lying down
Source: Amazon.com

 

 

Blanket Weight Chart
Body Weight Blanket Weight
20 – 40 lbs 3 – 6 lbs
30 – 50 lbs 4 – 7 lbs
50 – 70 lbs 6 – 9 lbs
70 – 90 lbs 8 – 10 lbs
90 – 110 lbs 9 – 11 lbs
110 – 120 lbs 11 – 12 lbs
120 – 130 lbs 12 – 13 lbs
140 – 160 lbs 13 – 14 lbs
160 – 180 lbs 14 – 16 lbs
180 – 200 lbs 18 – 20 lbs
200+ lbs 20 – 30 lbs

 

* These are simply guidelines. Remember, as long as the individual can lift the blanket, they should choose whatever weight is most comfortable.

Resources

https://harkla.co/blogs/special-needs/weighted-blanket-therapy

https://www.ot-innovations.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/aota2007weighted_blanket_web_final_607.pdf://www.ot-innovations.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/aota2007weighted_blanket_web_final_607.pdf

http://www.sharingtheweight.org/how-to-make-a-weighted-blanket/

References

Champagne, T. (2007). Exploring the safety & effectiveness of the use of weighted blankets with adult populations [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://www.ot-innovations.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/aota2007weighted_blanket_web_final_607.pdf

Champagne, T., Mullen, B., Dickson, D., & Krishnamurty, S. (2015). Evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the weighted blanket with adults during an inpatient mental health hospitalization. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 31(3), 211-233.

Mullen, B., Champagne, T., Krishnamurty, S., Dickson, D., & Gao, R. X. (2008). Exploring the safety and therapeutic effects of deep pressure stimulation using a weighted blanket. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 24(1), 65-89.

Cerissa Zenor Clark, OTS