Weighted blankets and toys are designed to help children and adults with difficulties such as anxiety, hyperactivity and sleeplessness to attain a calm and relaxed state. The added weight provides deep pressure input, which is interpreted by the proprioceptive system. Our proprioceptors are sensory receptors located in our muscles and joints. This system helps us feel the position of our bodies in space.
Proprioceptive or ‘deep pressure’ input is calming and organising to our bodies. For the same reason, we like firm hugs when we are in distress, bite our nails or chew gum when we are anxious, and why babies suck dummies and fingers. All of these activities are using the proprioceptive system for calming.
Deep pressure is also an essential part of child development. It is present for the entire period in utero and helps keep baby content in the womb. When the baby is born, they are no longer held within the tight cocoon of the womb space. Providing the same kind of pressure to their bodies helps them feel comforted and secure. It also helps to carry them over during sleep cycles, meaning they won’t need to wake up for comfort when moving from one sleep cycle to the next.
Weighted blankets also provide what is called a ‘grounding effect’. They help children and adults to feel safe and secure at night, by helping them feel more grounded. There is also less chance of rolling over and the blanket slipping off, or your child kicking it off at night and then crying to be recovered.
For toddlers and children, the extra weight when carrying the toy or blanket stimulates the proprioceptors, giving them more opportunity to learn about their body position in space. Heavy muscle work by carrying these items is also calming and organising.
Weighted items also provide input to the tactile system-our sense of touch. While light, unexpected touch is alerting and can be irritating, deep, constant touch is calming and comforting. Children often need this constant deep touch to remain calm, and stay asleep.
Weighted items can also be very effective within the school environment. Weighted lap pads are designed to be worn over the lap in class by the restless, fidgety or anxious child. The weight helps the child remain seated for longer periods, and can benefit concentration.