Hugimals, weighted blankets, and the like are cute — but are they safe? And why do they work so darn well? Everything to know, according to the pros.
The first weighted blanket I ever saw was a 28-pound DIY project someone made by hand for my cousin, a young person with a disability. When she was having a particularly rough emotional moment, you could hand over the blanket or wrap it around her shoulders. Within a few minutes, her weighted blanket would create a much-needed hug that would calm her to her core. The blanket looked like any other comforter you buy at the store: a large piece of fabric with a grid pattern sewn onto it to hold the back and front pieces together while holding the batting or stuffing in place. In this instance, that grid also held handfuls of beads within each square. It's been retired to a shelf now; it can no longer be safely washed without risking a bead explosion. Luckily, it's easier than ever to find mass-produced and easily washable versions — and much-adored weighted loveys, too.
But why? What makes a weighted blanket so much better than a standard comforter? Why are we drawn to the heavier, bean-filled stuffed animals instead of the little light guys stuffed with cotton? And are they safe for sleeping? It turns out there's actual science that explains why so many kids (and us parents, too) love weighted blankets and weighted loveys. And this expert-sourced guide also includes a few words of warning.
Why are weighted loveys and weighted blankets so beloved?
This can feel hard to understand for a lot of people, especially kids. The easiest answer is simply that the extra weight makes it feel more "real" and like the pressure of an actual hug. While many people don't want to be touched or hugged for many reasons, a weighted comfort item can offer the sensation of a hug without it feeling so... people-y.
"The reassuring weight of a blanket or stuffed animals helps the user feel comfortable and secure," shares Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and the founder and CEO of SleepingOcean. "One of the main benefits of weighted items is that it allows one to sleep at night using the deep pressure stimulation technique. This technique is based on the idea that applying light pressure to certain areas of the body promotes the release of serotonin, a chemical that regulates sleep."
Why are weighted comfort items especially popular among people who are neurodivergent?
"Weighted stuffs can help kids with Asperger's syndrome who cannot communicate or socialize," says Savy. "The heavy weight of stuffed animals can feel like a loving hug, thus, helping them release serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine and causing the feeling of wellness. Weighted stuffs will also come in handy for those who suffer from anxiety issues. Deep pressure stimulation has been shown to reduce cortisol (the hormone that regulates our stress response) levels in the body. The effect of the blanket is akin to that of a tender, affectionate hug. It generates a feeling of warmth and security. In addition, it helps with the release of oxytocin (the hormone that lowers blood pressure, slows the heart rate, and provides a feeling of relaxation)."
Are weighted blankets and weighted stuffed animals safe for everyone?
A weighted blanket might seem like the answer to calming an anxious toddler and lulling them to sleep, but sleep science and child safety experts are quick to warn that weighted comfort items need to be used appropriately and alongside proper safe sleeping protocols. In other words, a child two years and younger should not sleep with any blankets or stuffed animals in their crib or bed, weighted or otherwise. Once your child is old enough to sleep with a blanket, lovey, or stuffy, it can be safe to allow them a weighted comfort item.
However, the same weighted blanket that brings you comfort will not necessarily be safe for your child. Younger kids need weighted comfort items that are still easily lifted and removed by themselves. Properly made weighted comfort items will have guides to help you find the correct weighted item for your child's size. (Hugimals, which we’ll discuss more below, do not have guides. But according to creator Marina Khidekel, she worked with pediatricians and pediatric occupational therapists upfront to determine the appropriate weight, 4.5 pounds, for ages 2+.)
Where weighted blankets "fail," weighted stuffed animals save the day.
If you or your kid toss and turn a lot or live in a home that is often warm or stuffy, the idea of a heavily weighted blanket may not seem all that comfortable or comforting. A weighted stuffed animal, like a Hugimal, might better suit this job. That's precisely why Hugimals’ Khidekel designed the pint-sized weighted comfort item to replace the blankets: She needed the weight, not the heat.
"I actually created them for me… there was a time when my own anxiety and racing mind prevented me from falling asleep without feeling the weight of my partner Mike's arm on me (not a sustainable solution for him, lol, but my weighted blanket was too hot)," shares Khidekel. "I needed another option, and, as a health and wellness journalist, I began researching other weighted modalities. But I couldn't find a beautiful, design-forward weighted plush that I'd want for myself, or want to gift. So I set out to create it!"
After a ton of trial and error, and even a children's hospital pilot program, Khidekel was ready to release her Hugimals to the world at large as a soothing, stylish, and smaller keepsake perfect for anyone in need of a hug... or the comforting weight of their favorite person's arm.
How can you give weight without lightening your wallet?
Someday I'll probably break down and buy my kid that weighted blanket. Until then, though, I’m not afraid to try other options to mimic the benefits. If you’re thinking the same, a few safe and cozy alternatives include:
- Layering blankets. That crocheted afghan your Mamaw made that you're afraid to use and ruin? She made it so you'd use it. And it's just heavy enough to throw atop your kiddo's comforter to add extra warmth and extra weight.
- Tucking in blankets. Some families literally "tuck in" their kids by lightly tucking the edges of their blanket under the mattress. That'll induce a panic attack for some people, but it does help give the illusion of a heavier blanket. Just make sure it's easily loosened for emergencies and late-night bathroom trips.
- Pillows. Weighted blankets feel like hugs — like there's someone with you, even when there's not. On rough nights for your little, consider laying a couple of pillows length-wise beside your sleeping child, atop their comforter. This will keep their blanket snug while also giving the illusion of someone sleeping beside them. Again, make sure the pillows aren't too heavy to move and that your child is old enough to sleep safely with comfort items.