Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 4, 2021
To cuddle or not to cuddle — that is the question facing the majority (1) of adults who share their bed with a partner. While not everyone enjoys cuddling, those who do may see an impact on their sleep and well-being. Falling asleep while cuddling can be romantic and may even help you sleep better.
Research shows that massage techniques similar to cuddling, like stroking and squeezing, can immediately lower anxiety, improve your mood, and soothe anger (2).
This form of physical touch has longer-term effects, too, including increased dopamine and serotonin. These two hormones help regulate your mood, so regular cuddling may lift feelings of depression and hostility. Serotonin (3) also plays a role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle, and maintaining healthy serotonin levels may improve sleep.
Light cuddling can resemble therapeutic touch (4), an alternative medicine practice that involves lightly touching and passing one’s hands over a patient’s body. Studies of therapeutic touch in patients with fibromyalgia have found that it can significantly decrease pain levels (5). Over time, cuddling can increase dopamine levels, which may further aid in pain relief (6).
Stress and Anxiety Relief
Cuddling facilitates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that suppresses your cortisol levels (7). Cortisol is a stress hormone that triggers your fight-or-flight response. People with a healthy sleep-wake cycle have lower cortisol levels (8) in the evening, allowing them to enjoy a more restful sleep.
People with chronic insomnia, on the other hand, tend to have elevated cortisol levels (9) that disrupt their sleep. Cuddling before bed may help some couples lower their stress and get into a more relaxed state of mind.
Lower Blood Pressure
Even short periods of cuddling can be beneficial. One study of couples found that holding hands for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-second hug, lead to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure (10). More frequent hugging (11) between partners can also lower blood pressure and increase oxytocin.
Small increases in blood pressure, especially at night, can increase your risk (12) of cardiovascular disease. Several sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, are also associated with increased blood pressure. By keeping your blood pressure low (13), you can facilitate more restful sleep.
Immune System Boost
According to one study, cuddling in bed may even protect you against the common cold (14). Researchers monitored the interpersonal relationships and hugging frequency among more than 400 adults. They then exposed them to a cold virus. Those who hugged more often were less likely to become ill, and if they did end up catching a cold, they tended to have less severe symptoms.
Cuddling raises oxytocin levels. This so-called “cuddle hormone” (15) helps facilitate bonding between love partners, parents and newborns, and even dog owners and their pups (16). This information suggests that cuddling during sleep may improve your relationship and strengthen your bond, whoever your cuddling partner may be.
When couples increase their cuddling, they report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationship (17). Partners who are more affectionate (18) are also less likely to experience sleep disturbances.
Even if you can’t cuddle, merely sharing a bed can improve some couples' sleep quality — especially for women (19). Some studies show that women who spend more time in bed with their partners enjoy better sleep quality.
For all its benefits, however, cuddling isn’t an option for some couples. Nearly 40% of couples (20) don’t share their bed due to sleep disturbances. One partner may snore loudly or move a lot in their sleep. Couples may enter the relationship with different sleep routines or disagree on an ideal bedroom temperature.
When a couple’s sleep habits conflict (21), investing in a larger bed or a new mattress may improve things. For others, sleeping alone is the better option. Cuddling is not a prerequisite for a happy relationship. What’s important is that you talk with each other about your sleep needs and figure out a solution that works for you both.
What Are the Best Cuddling Positions for Sleeping?
Couples can get creative with their cuddling. Sleeping cuddling positions can include the traditional spoon, a half spoon where one person lies on their back and the other person hugs them, a face-to-face cuddle with your arms and legs entwined, or even back-to-back with your backsides touching. Ultimately, however, the best cuddling position is whichever one helps you sleep — even if that means no cuddling at all.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17854738/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15256294/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10622375/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/therapeutic-touch Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15222602/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18457535/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27981177/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
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- https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25526910/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22029018/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29081760/ Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10570314.2019.1667021 Accessed on February 18, 2021.
- http://etd.auburn.edu/handle/10415/6666 Accessed on February 18, 2021.
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