Sure, having a nice cuddle can be a comforting and peaceful way to end a long day, especially in the middle of a pandemic, when many crave little more than human touch. But did you know that health benefits of cuddling can go far beyond feeling a sense of warmth and security? “The research evidence is mounting that not only does cuddling feel good, but it also does a body good,” confirms holistic integrated medicine specialist Eudene Harry, MD.
This is largely because cuddling stimulates the production of specific hormones, like oxytocin, and neurotransmitters in the brain that positively impact the body (and its behavior). Oxytocin “communicates throughout the body and promotes empathy and human connection—the fundamentals of attachment and bonding,” says psychotherapist Dana Dorfman, PhD. Oxytocin also plays a role in increasing our serotonin and dopamine levels, both of which can increase a sense of well-being.
While a lot of the health benefits of cuddling can apply to the relationship you have with the subject of your snuggle, you can certainly enjoy the feel-good effects, no matter your relationship status. “The warmth and physical comfort of a pet can absolutely provide the physiological benefits of human cuddling,” Dr. Dorfman says. “While a stuffed animal and weighted blanket may not be a substitute for human relationships, they may stimulate similar brain activity—feelings of love, security, comfort, and well-being.”
So, grab your partner, pet, weighted blanket, or anything else you’d like to hold tightly and keep reading to learn about five health benefits of cuddling.
5 health benefits of cuddling that’ll improve your overall well-being
1. You can improve your sleep with it
If you need a better night’s rest, try a good cuddle sesh before bed. “During this physical closeness, the brain releases oxytocin and counters the production of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol,” says Dr. Dorfman. “This lowered cortisol and increased oxytocin promote feelings of safety, security, and relaxation—all of which facilitate sleep.” Having a higher level of oxytocin has also been linked to having fewer nightmares, adds Dr. Harry.
2. Cuddling is connected to lowered stress
Oxytocin isn’t the only hormone responsible for offering these stress-reducing benefits connected to cuddling. We can also thank serotonin, the “happy hormone,” which promotes feelings of happiness and pleasure. “Being ‘sick from stress’ is a real thing that cuddling may mitigate,” says Dr. Dorfman. So, if you’re feeling super stressed, down in the dumps, or simply had a rough day, cuddling may help your mood and get you feeling good again.
3. Cuddling may improve digestive functioning
The more often we cuddle, the more serotonin we produce, and the more serotonin we produce, the better our ability is to digest and process food. “When released into the bloodstream, serotonin conveys strong messaging throughout the body, especially in the gut,” says Dr. Dorfman. “As serotonin stores in the gut, it significantly affects digestive functioning, hunger, and satiety. This is why we may enjoy food and eating, and when feeling depressed, we may lose our appetite.” Of course, cuddling won’t magically fix a digestive issue, and if you’re experiencing any symptoms of digestive distress, be sure to seek medical attention.
4. You may be able to use cuddling to reduce pain
According to Dr. Harry, cuddling can sometimes block the pain signals from reaching the brain, thus helping you to tolerate pain better. This is largely in light of research showing that oxytocin is an antidote to physical and emotional pain. Plus, we decrease our sensitivity to pain when we’re well-rested and happier.
5. Cuddling can boost immunity
“Since serotonin is linked to gut health, and gut health is linked to immunity, [you can conclude that] cuddling impacts our immune system,” says Dr. Dorfman. Our immunity is boosted when serotonin is released, which can help to lower stress, fight illness, reduce inflammation, and stay healthy. And while cuddling is no replacement for safer-at-home guidelines to fight the spread of COVID-19, snuggling up can, at the very least, help us enjoy our time and preserve components of health.
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