Snuggledown: Sensory weighted blankets in children with autism

Snuggledown logoProject Areas: A clinical trial of the effectiveness of sensory weighted blankets in children with autism.

Lead Researcher/s:

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

  • Dr Dido Green, Honorary Research Occupational Therapist, Evelina Children's Hospital and Lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy, University Ramat Aviv, Israel
  • Dr Zenobia Zaiwalla, Paediatric Neurologist, John Radcliff, Oxford
  • Hayley Dutton, Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust
  • Carla Rush, Snuggledown Project Coordination and Administration, Evelina Children's Hospital
  • Karen Pratt, Children's Research Nurse, Evelina Children's Hospital
  • Victoria Timms, Children's Research Nurse, Evelina Children's Hospital
  • Masako Sparrowhawk, Children's Research Practitioner, Oxford Brookes University
  • Naomi Hooke, Children's Research Practitioner, Limes Trees Child and Family Unit, York
  • Danielle Moore, Clinical Studies Officer, Limes Trees Child and Family Unit, York

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. 

Funding: We would like to thank the Waterloo Foundation for its support of this project.

Additional information

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.

Where did it take place?

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.

Who was eligible?

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

  • between 5 and 15 years and 10 months old
  • who had persistent problems with falling asleep and/or staying asleep (ie. a period of more than 6 months and 5 nights or more out of every week)
  • who had an official diagnosis of autism or Asperger's syndrome (we will need to see a copy of a professional's report stating this)
  • who were able to fall asleep/spend most nights in their own bed so that they are able to try the weighted blanket in their own bed
  • who were able to wear a special watch device that we use to measure sleep (the watch can be worn only at night and can be worn on the wrist or ankle and even over clothing)
  • who had not used a weighted blanket in the last year
  • whose parents/carers were able to complete a sleep diary for the six weeks of the study

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.

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14 Mar 2018