Project Areas: A clinical trial of the effectiveness of sensory weighted blankets in children with autism.
Professor Paul Gringras, Consultant in Paediatric Neurodisability, Evelina Children's Hospital
Dr Lucy Wiggs, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Oxford Brookes University
Dr Barry Wright, Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Limes Trees Child and Family Unit, York
Other members of the team
Status: The project, which commenced in December 2009, completed in mid 2013.
Findings: The study found that weighted blankets did not help children with autism and sleep problems to sleep for longer, fall asleep more quickly, or to wake less often.
Publication: The study is published as Gringras P. et al. (2014). Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 134(2), pp. 298-306.
Funding: We would like to thank the Waterloo Foundation for its support of this project.
Sleep disturbance is often cited as having the greatest impact on the wellbeing of children with autism, as well as on the welfare of their families. Weighted blankets are sometimes recommended for children with autism, to assist with calming and relaxation, as well as with sleep. Until this study few studies had looked at the effect of weighted blankets on sleeping problems, and the small studies that had been done showed that they might improve sleep in some people. It was therefore enormously valuable to conduct a clinical trial of the effectiveness of weighted blankets in children with autism who suffered from poor sleep, and this was the aim of the Snuggledown study.
One way to find out for certain if these blankets work was to compare how well children slept with a heavy blanket, with how well they slept with an identical, but less heavy, blanket. The order of blanket they used was randomly decided. This sort of study is known as a randomised crossover study.
This study took place at three participating centres; the Evelina Children's Hospital in London, Oxford Brookes University in Oxford and Lime Trees Child and Family Unit, York. Although we would have liked to reach as many people as we could, we were limited to the locations that were accessible to our research nurses.
We recruited 115 children with an autistic spectrum disorder and persistent sleep problems to this six week trial, 63 of whom provided usable data.
We were specifically looking for children
Research nurses visited the children either at home, school or at a local clinic.
Families who completed the six week study were able to keep the weighted blanket.