Why Weighted Blankets Are Great for Children with ADHD

The CDC estimates that around 11 percent of American children, ages 4 to 17, have ADHD. That’s 6.4 million kids in the US alone.

Kids with ADHD have a hard time focusing and sitting still during the day. Going to bed at night can also be a problem. Because of the ADHD, many children have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.

Thankfully, there are more all-natural products that help people with ADHD without the use of chemicals or dangerous medication. For years, occupational therapists have been using weighted blankets as a natural sleep aid for children with ADHD.

What is a Weighted Blanket?

Designed to weigh 10 to 15% of your child’s body weight, weighted blankets use the same effects of swaddling a baby or a hug from a loved one. The extra weight puts pressure on the nervous system which immediately calms the mind and body. The scientific term for this effect is called Deep Pressure Therapy.

Weighted blankets are usually filled with non-toxic plastic poly pellets, similar to Beanie Babies. Best of all, the blankets are soft, comfortable and come in a variety of colors and designs.

The Science Behind Weighted Blankets

Deep Pressure Therapy puts pressure on the body’s sensory receptors. This proprioceptive input has a great effect on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

As a division of the nervous system, the ANS controls unconscious actions, such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. This system can be further broken down into two sections.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the body’s “fight or flight” response. It releases hormones which increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and breathing. Try to remember the last time you were nervous. Maybe it was before I test or a meeting at work. How did you feel? Your heart was probably pounding. Your palms may have been sweaty, and it may have been hard to think about the task at hand.

That was your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) at work.

The second section of the ANS is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). This section is the exact opposite of the SNS and is dominant during peaceful, quiet times. The PSNS calms the body down by decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.

Now try to remember how you feel when you’re taking a bath, or even before you go to sleep. Your breathing is slower. Your thoughts stop racing, and you feel calmer and at peace.

That is your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS).

When you’re in a state of stress, your body is constantly in a “fight or flight” response, meaning your SNS is dominant. This can make it impossible to calm down and can greatly affect your thinking, concentration, and sleep.

When Deep Pressure Therapy is applied to the body, the Autonomic Nervous System becomes balanced. The body’s “fight or flight” response decreases, while the calming PSNS is activated.

This opposite movement within the Autonomic Nervous System not only calms the body down, but helps regulate emotions.

ADHD And Weighted Blankets

ADHD is a neurological disorders Children with ADD and ADHD are unable to sit still, pay attention, or stay quiet. Most children fidget, cannot concentrate, have mood swings, and talk excessively. These behaviors make daily tasks, like school work or meeting new friends, challenging.

Children with ADHD have low serotonin levels. Medications like Ritalin and Adderall give serotonin boosts and this is why they are so effective. However, weighted blankets and DTP are natural. This means that they can get a serotonin boost, without taking more medication.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, researchers found that sleep time increased during weighted blanket use. Participants also found it easier to fall asleep, and woke up more refreshed in the morning.

Weighted blankets and Deep Pressure Therapy increase serotonin by 28% and dopamine by 31%. These “happy hormones” not only boost your mood, but calm your mind when trying to fall asleep.

Serotonin is also responsible for the production of melatonin. This hormone tells the body when it is time to go to sleep. When melatonin production is high, sleep is deeper and more restful.

These combined effects not only soothe the nervous system, but calm the mind.

A calm state allows the brain to organize incoming sensory input and adapt to changes in the environment. Once your child reaches this point, they begin to stop seeking stimulation. They are able to settle down and improve their attention span.

When Can I Use a Weighted Blanket?

For children with ADHD, weighted blankets have profound effects. They can be used in a variety of situations, including:

  • Before bed time

  • Transitioning from high to low energy activities

  • Long car rides

  • In the class room or while doing homework

Many children begin to understand when they need their weighted blanket. Whether it’s before homework or bed time, or during a meltdown, they learn to calm themselves down.

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