New research finds that weighted blankets don’t significantly improve sleep in children and teens who have autism. Overall, however, the families who completed the study preferred the weighted blanket over a nonweighted one that otherwise resembled it. The findings appear today in the journal Pediatrics.
Weighted blankets have long been popular for calming individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Typically the blankets contain metal or plastic beads sewn into quilted layers. The idea is that the weight provides gentle, deep pressure that addresses the sensory-integration issues often associated with ASD. These sensory issues, in turn, may add to the sleep disturbances that are likewise common among those who have autism. Studies suggest that 40 to 80 percent of individuals with ASD have significant sleep problems – in particular difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
During the first half of the study, 63 children – ages 5 to 16 – slept with either a weighted blanket or a nonweighted look-alike blanket for 12 to 16 weeks. After this first phase, the two groups switched blankets and used the other blanket for approximately two weeks.
During the study, the children wore sleep monitors each night and their parents completed sleep diaries. Parents and children also completed a questionnaire about the experience.
Overall, the researchers found no difference in overall sleep time, time needed to fall asleep or nighttime wakings with the weighted versus the look-alike nonweighted blanket. However most of the children reported preferring the weighted blanket. Their parents likewise reported preferring to use it with their children.
Also see Autism Speaks ATN/AIR-P sleep strategies tool kits for children and teens. (Click on the link for more information and free download.)