Cuddling and Sleep

Cuddling is an intimate activity generally reserved for romantic partners and very close loved ones. The act of cuddling can take many forms: embracing in a hug, spooning in bed, or snuggling on the couch.

No matter the form, cuddling involves the act of physical touch. Even if you have always enjoyed cuddling, you may be surprised to learn the many benefits of this tactile activity. We discuss the numerous benefits of cuddling, how cuddling can contribute to a better night’s sleep, and the best way to snuggle up with your partner.

What Are the Benefits of Cuddling?

Skin-to-skin contact plays an important role at every stage of life. Studies have shown that premature infants gain weight faster with regular massages from their caretakers. And even into adulthood, pleasant physical contact has many benefits for health.

Relieves Stress and Anxiety

Although more research is needed, experts believe pleasant touch from a loved one may stimulate release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is believed to promote social bonding and relieve anxiety. Gentle touch can also alleviate symptoms of stress and depression, which may be helpful if stress keeps you awake at night.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Cuddling and other forms of touch can improve common health markers such as blood pressure. In one study, researchers looked at the link between cuddling and blood pressure changes during stressful events. They found that simply holding hands and hugging a significant other resulted in lower blood pressure and heart rate readings. Another study found a similar link between warm touch and lower blood pressure in married couples.

There is also a wealth of research suggesting physical touch in the form of massage therapy can help lower blood pressure.

Strengthens the Immune System

Cuddling and physical touch may play a role in protecting against pathogens and disease. Massage therapy with moderate pressure has been shown to improve immune function for a variety of people, from infants to people with HIV. Another study found that people who received more hugs experienced improved protection against the common cold.

Alleviates Pain

For those who have a disease or disorder that causes pain, cuddling may help. Research suggests holding hands or gently stroking your partner may reduce physical reactions to pain. Empathy demonstrated through comforting touch in response to a painful event may also help alleviate pain-related distress.

Strengthens Relationships

While most people enjoy a hug from a good friend or family member, physical touch from a significant other may be especially rewarding. Physical touch such as cuddling enhances bonding and attachment, and couples who cuddle tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. One study found that physical touch from a partner before a tense situation helped decrease stress hormone levels.

How Does Cuddling Affect Sleep?

Although more research has been done on the relation between sex and sleep, cuddling with a romantic partner may also induce feelings of calmness, comfort, and relaxation that are conducive to sleep. Studies have found that spending more time in bed with a partner is associated with better sleep quality.

One study of 90 couples found that people mostly reported falling asleep while physically touching their partner, most commonly in a spooning position. Other studies have found that even if partners prefer to fall asleep on separate sides of the bed, couples frequently cuddle before sleep, and this may help improve intimacy.

Researchers point out that sleeping with a partner can cause sleep disturbance, and in some cases touch may be arousing rather than relaxing, which can interfere with sleep. On the other hand, sleeping together may provide added feelings of security for some people during the relatively vulnerable state of sleep.

Best Cuddling Positions for Sleeping

If you and your partner want to cuddle more, the time you spend in bed is an excellent opportunity. Cuddling is an ideal relaxing activity to help you wind down and let go of stress during your nightly bedtime routine.

Consider trying several positions to find the one that suits you best. Some of the most common couple sleeping positions include:

  • Spooning: Each person lies on their side facing the same direction. In this position, the little spoon has their back nestled against the front of the big spoon.
  • Face-to-Face: Each person lies on their side facing one another. Allow your arms and legs to intertwine in the way that feels most comfortable.
  • Back-to-Back: Each person lies on their side facing away from one another with their backs touching. This allows for more personal space while maintaining touch throughout the night.

If you find that cuddling throughout the night is disruptive to your sleep, it may be more productive to cuddle in bed before falling asleep and after waking up. You can also carve out time to cuddle during the day, or relax on the couch together in the evening.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!