Weighted Blankets and Better Sleep for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

Americas, December 17 2018

baby's feet poking out of a white blanket holding a flower

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AMERICAS: As many as 90% of children with autism also have sensory challenges, according to Spectrum News. Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD is a condition in which the brain has trouble processing the information being sent by the senses. SPD can cause a person to often feel either over or under stimulated and constantly crave sensory input.

Children with SPD will naturally attempt to get the sensations they crave by stimming, engaging in repetitive actions that provide stimulation. Stims can include harmlessly repeating certain words or swinging an item in their hand. But they can also employ destructive means like banging their head against a wall or hurting themselves and others.

Sleep Issues for Children with Autism

For a child who is constantly feeling under stimulated, it may take longer than usual to settle down and fall asleep. There are various methods for caregivers to try from rubbing the child’s back or wrapping the child tightly in a blanket. These can work, but are not terribly effective and require time and energy every night.

There are sleep products that were created to make the process smoother. They include stimulating colored lights, a specially designed mattress or the most effective item, a weighted blanket. These may be very effective in helping a child settle down for a good night’s sleep.

How a Weighted Blanket Can Help

The benefits of weighted blankets for children with autism are numerous. Firstly, the deep pressure helps release serotonin in the body, a chemical which aids in regulating mood and calmness. Serotonin supports the release of melatonin, a hormone that children with autism may lack according to a study on PubMed.com. Parents may counter this deficiency by giving the child a melatonin supplement, which can be effective but addictive.

Secondly, children with autism tend to struggle with anxiety, since the world can often seem a foreign and frightening place to them. The anxiety they experience is another factor that can be keeping them from falling asleep easily. It has been studied and proven that weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety and relieve some stress from the nervous system.

If a child with autism, or any child for that matter, has the habit of waking up often at night, weighted blankets can benefit them too. The deep touch pressure helps relax the body to the point that sleep becomes deeper and more restful. The extra weight helps them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

For anyone, sleep is not a luxury but a necessity. Even more so for children with autism, who need a lot more focus to process the world around them. The weighted blanket does a fantastic job of helping children with autism to calm down, destress and get a restful night’s sleep.

Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.

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