Be honest: when was the last time you really got to cuddle? Not the obligatory, occasionally half-assed cuddling that comes before or after sex, either. Just a good old-fashioned, honest cuddle with a loved one? It’s probably been a while (given the social distancing guidance and pandemic of it all). And we can guess you’re probably missing the feeling of a cuddle without any additional health anxieties.
Even when we aren’t advised to keep our distance from people not in our immediate households, it’s difficult to find that special time to connect with another. Which is unfortunate because there’s no beating the warmth we receive from a good cuddle. If you think you can’t fit cuddling into your schedule, then you might want to rethink that. Not only does cuddling makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but there are also some serious health benefits to reap from a sweet cuddling session.
Read on to find out how cuddling soothes your mind, body, and soul (and prepare to cherish all your snuggles once we’re given the all clear to love up on each other again!)
It helps to create a connection within relationships
You’ve heard of the cuddling hormone, right? Well, that’s a real thing. “Specifically, what is referred to as the cuddle hormone, or the love hormone, is oxytocin,” Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC, certified counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, tells SheKnows. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone, and upon consensual touch, oxytocin is dumped into our synapses and makes us feel love, calm, and connection.
“There is a lot of research that notes having healthy relationships contributes to longer lifespan,” says Wijkstrom. “Some researchers have suggested that this may have a lot to do with oxytocin and the happiness that it makes us feel.” So don’t forget to spoon your partner to enrich your relationship.
It reduces the risk of chronic disease
That busy schedule we mentioned? It’s the cause for many people experiencing chronic stress regularly, which releases a constant flow of cortisol. “When our bodies are subjected to chronic stress — whether physical, emotional, or nutritional — over prolonged periods of time, they become a target for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease,” Dr. Jeff Nalin, PsyD, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and founder and executive director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center, tells SheKnows.
One remedy, he says, is cuddling. “Cuddling has been proven to relax the body and lower cortisol levels, helping to reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.”
It reduces stress
Because cuddling reduces cortisol levels and increases oxytocin, your blood pressure and heart rate will naturally lower, which, as Wijkstrom says, is an effective way to decrease anxiety and depression, and, yes, stress.
It improves your immune system
The stress-reducing effects of a good cuddle could also protect you from illness. “When you are happy, your immune system strengthens and you are less likely to get sick or feel tired,” Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD, tells SheKnows.
In fact, one study involving 400 adults found that hugging may reduce the chance a person will get sick. Researchers discovered participants with a greater support system were less likely to get sick, and those with the greater support system who did get sick had less severe symptoms than those with little or no support system. The more support and hugs participants received, the less severe their symptoms became. So swap your vitamin C for a big ol’ bear hug!
It helps with social anxiety
Since cuddling is so peaceful and nurturing, it’s not a surprise that it helps ease anxiety and fears. “Cuddling has been demonstrated to help people manage their social fears,” says Nalin. “It has been shown particularly effective for those who suffer from social anxiety, PTSD, and autism. Again, this is largely due to oxytocin, the powerful hormone that is responsible for building trust and inducing feelings of happiness.” Go in for a snuggle next time you are feeling anxious.
It helps you get a good night’s rest
Struggling to catch some zzzs? Then you might need a good cuddle. “Cuddling before bed helps us achieve a better night’s sleep because it keeps the oxytocin and cortisol hormones at an optimal level,” says Nalin. “When we cuddle, our stress melts away, which contributes to a more restful, rejuvenating sleep.” One 2003 study from researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry found that oxytocin promoted sleep in the brains of mice — under stress-free conditions, that is. Which means no work emails or fights before bedtime.
It boosts your sex life and relationship satisfaction
Cuddling also enhances your sex life. One study from the University of Toronto Mississauga published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that cuddling boosts both the sexual and relationship satisfaction.
You know how good it feels, so why deny yourself the pleasure (once you know you’re both safely in one another’s bubbles)?
Forget celery juice — cuddling could be the next best thing you can do for your emotional and physical health.
A version of this story was published September 2019.