A recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research has found that the use of weighted blankets can significantly improve the sleep quality of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These blankets — which are heavier than typical bed covers — have been shown to boost the duration and quality of sleep in the young participants. This research sheds new light on a simple and non-invasive method for improving sleep in children with ADHD.
The quality and duration of sleep play an essential role in the overall well-being and cognitive development of children. Previous research has indicated that many children with ADHD experience sleep difficulties, ranging from trouble falling asleep to waking up frequently throughout the night. While various treatments and interventions are available, the non- pharmacological approaches, which come without the potential side effects of medication, have piqued interest among both researchers and parents.
Given the prevalence of sleep problems in children with ADHD, researchers formed this study to determine if weighted blankets could offer a simple, non-invasive solution. Weighted blankets, already popular for their calming effects, were perceived as a promising, practical tool for parents and clinicians dealing with ADHD-related sleep issues. Recognizing that poor sleep can exacerbate ADHD symptoms and impact a child’s daily functioning encouraged the team to understand whether weighted blankets could provide an additional tool for improving sleep and overall quality of life.
In a structured randomized controlled trial (RCT), researchers compared the sleep quality of children using weighted blankets to those using lighter control blankets. Both groups consisted of children diagnosed with ADHD, and sleep quality was measured using actigraphs – wearable devices that track movement during sleep. Researchers also took into account parent ratings and children’s self-reports about their sleep. There were 94 total participants — 54 boys and 40 girls, averaging nine years old — all of whom had ADHD.
The results were promising — children using weighted blankets showed marked improvements in their overall sleep duration and the amount of time they spent awake after initially falling asleep. There was an average improvement of 8 minutes in total sleep time for the entire group, with an even more significant 16-minute enhancement for children aged 11 to 14 with the inattentive subtype of ADHD.
Parent reports corroborated these findings, indicating that the children experienced fewer sleep problems with the use of weighted blankets. In simple terms, children using weighted blankets slept more soundly and for longer periods than those using regular, lighter blankets.
While the study’s findings are promising, certain limitations need mentioning. One potential limitation was the blinding process. Since parents could potentially discern which blanket was the weighted one, it might have influenced their perceptions and feedback. Furthermore, the study didn’t include children with ADHD who also had other significant comorbidities, such as autism or anxiety disorders. This exclusion means the findings might not be generalizable to all children with ADHD. In addition, while improvements in sleep were observed, the study did not delve into primary sleep disorders that might influence results.
Nevertheless, the researchers concluded that weighted blankets appear to be “effective in improving sleep duration, sleep maintenance and decreasing sleep disruption in children with ADHD,” and “could be used as a non-pharmacological sleep intervention, and be recommended in clinical guidelines as a first-line intervention for sleep difficulties in ADHD.”
The study, “The efficacy of weighted blankets for sleep in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—A randomized controlled crossover trial“, was authored by Maria Lönn, Petra Svedberg, Jens Nygren, Håkan Jarbin, Katarina Aili, and Ingrid Larsson.