Cuddling is great for your health … and your sleep

FeaturedHealth & Fitness

Written by:

 

It’s well known that sex can help you sleep better. But did you know that good old-fashioned cuddling can help give you a good night’s rest—and even support your health and wellbeing?

Even if you knew that, you may not know that cuddling a pet, real or stuffed, or even a favorite blanket, can have the same effect as cuddling with a human. It’s true!

Read on to learn how cuddling can improve your sleep, support your health, and make you a happier person. Yes, it’s that effective. Plus, find out what the best cuddle positions for sleeping are so you can reap the benefits.

______________________

SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.

2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you're ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals get started now.

______________________

 

 

 

Sleep and health benefits of cuddling

You might say cuddling is a gift that keeps on giving right back to you. Consider these six ways cuddling can support your sleep and health:

1. Relieves stress

Cuddling has been shown to release oxytocin in the brain. Commonly known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin calms you and relieves stress—a major reason why people struggle to fall and stay asleep. Oxytocin helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol so you can snooze more easily.

2. Lowers blood pressure

“Cuddling for even minutes reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure,” says Los Angeles-based psychologist Barbara Santini. “Unhealthy blood pressure levels, especially at night, increase cardiovascular risk, resulting in insomnia and sleep apnea.”

One couples study found that simply holding hands for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-second hug, lowered blood pressure. Another study found that more frequent hugging can both lower blood pressure and increase oxytocin.

3. Eases pain

Cuddling can do more than provide emotional support after an injury. By releasing oxytocin, it can block pain messages to your brain. Cuddling can have similar effects as therapeutic touch, also known as healing touch, an alternative medicine practice aimed at balancing energy within the body to ease pain and stress.

It involves lightly touching and passing one’s hands over the patient’s body. Even in people with fibromyalgia, therapeutic touch has been found to significantly reduce pain. It can even increase dopamine levels, further supporting pain relief.

One couples study found that simply holding hands for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-second hug, lowered blood pressure. Another study found that more frequent hugging can both lower blood pressure and increase oxytocin.

4. Improves mood

Massage techniques similar to cuddling, such as stroking and squeezing, have been found to increase dopamine and serotonin, helping ease anxiety and reduce feelings of depression and hostility. “Serotonin also regulates your sleep-wake cycle,” notes Santini. “Hence, healthy levels of this hormone in your body can make you sleep better.”

5. Boosts immunity

Feeling happy and safe, the way cuddling makes us feel, helps your brain produce optimal levels of oxytocin and serotonin, which also helps strengthen your immune system. One study found that hugging and cuddling in bed may actually protect you against the common cold.

6. Increases relationship satisfaction

Cuddling isn’t just something romantic you do with your partner: It can actually benefit your relationship. Research finds that couples who cuddle not only tend to stay together but to be happier and healthier too. This makes sense when you consider cuddling improves your mood and relieves physical pain, stress, and anxiety—any of which can stand between partners in a relationship.

Couples who increase their cuddling report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationship. Their affection also makes it less likely they’ll experience sleep disturbances.

Best cuddling positions for sleeping

Couples sleep together in all sorts of configurations. Those who cuddle typically follow a few traditional styles.

“Spooning” is when partners sleep on their side, with one “outside spoon” wrapped around the other “inside spoon.” Then there’s a face-to-face “pretzel” cuddle with arms and legs entwined—a cuddle position especially popular with newer couples.

There’s also the back-to-back “back kissers” cuddle with only partners’ backsides touching. The “leg hug” is common with longer-term couples. Their legs or feet touch, but not so much their bodies.

Of course, there’s also the nuzzle, with one partner’s head on the other’s chest. Really there are so many ways to cuddle that the best part may be in sampling a variety of them.

Do you love cuddling all night long—but your partner hates it? Check out our article on the common sleep problems couples face to learn how to compromise so you can still enjoy cuddling without upsetting your relationship. We’ve also put together our top tips for being a better sleep partner.

Cuddling with a stuffed animal or pet

Some folks simply can’t cuddle with their bed partners because they’re hot sleepers. Cuddling would actually prevent them from falling asleep comfortably.

For them, “a good alternative is cuddling with a stuffed animal or the like,” says Victoria Wildhorn, sleep health content specialist at Mattress Clarity. “This will give you the same warm and safety effect as cuddling with another person would but without the unnecessary heat.”

Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Connecticut-based Wisdom Within Counseling, explains that maintaining an item to cuddle with as an adult can help you get a good night’s sleep. “If you are an adult and you have a favorite stuffed animal or a favorite blanket, cuddling with this before you go to bed at night has been shown to promote more restful sleep,” she says.

Cuddling with a pet can be beneficial to sleep too. Their heartbeat and warmth foster the same feelings of safety, security, and love you’d get from a human cuddle partner.

What seems to matter most when it comes to cuddling is that we cuddle, not necessarily whom or what we cuddle.

“Having something familiar to you calms your nervous system and lowers anxiety,” says Ziskind. “For some people, they are cuddling with their dog or cat. For others, they are cuddling with a stuffed animal. Other people like to cuddle with a person.”

The bottom line: “We are creatures that like to have comfort, and comfort is totally OK no matter how old you are,” says Ziskind. “The most important thing is to know how you need comfort and what you like for comfort, and be confident about that.”

Best mattress for cuddling

You might enjoy cuddling all night, but sleeping on your side face-to-face with your partner or wrapped up like spoons can lead to achy hips and shoulders. Choosing a softer mattress, made from latex or foam, or an innerspring mattress with a plush pillow top, will allow your joints to sink in a bit and relieve the pressure.

Saatva offers a variety of latex, memory foam, and pillow top mattresses that are excellent for cuddling. Check out our selection of high-quality mattresses or take our online mattress quiz to find out which one is right for you and your partner.

 

This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

More from MediaFeed:

8 tips for a healthy relationship (even with kids!)

 

“Don’t forget to make time for your marriage.”

As my husband and I prepared to become parents, schlepping to childbirth education classes and talking with excited relatives, this advice cropped up over and over again as the key to how to have a healthy relationship.

Fair enough. Studies show that having kids can make marital satisfaction plummet. The responsibility of caring for a tiny human being (not to mention big new stressors like trying to save for college while also putting away money for retirement and commuting to work every day) and can make prioritizing a happy marriage feel difficult, if not downright impossible.

“The transition to parenthood is known to be one of the most stressful times in a couple’s life, and if the relationship is not prioritized, it is prone to falling apart,” says Leah Ottow, an L.C.S.W. at New Approaches, a therapy practice.

 

Milkos / istockphoto

 

And yet, maintaining a healthy relationship is one of the best gifts we can give our kids. “Kids thrive in a secure environment,” says John Howard, relationship therapist and educator at Ready Set Love. “The worst thing parents can do is to put all their attention on their kids and neglect their relationship.”

While well-meaning people prescribe weekly date nights with the same verve with which they dole out obsolete parenting advice, it’s not always so easy to make it happen.

I asked the experts for some low-barrier (and non-obvious) ways to keep my relationship healthy. Here’s what they told me.

 

monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto

 

Every day when you come home, Howard says, give your partner an extended, belly-to-belly hug without talking. Continue the hug until you feel both your bodies relax.

The parts of our nervous systems that determine connection are primitive, Howard explains. When we spend time apart or feel disconnected from our spouse, he says, “Our nervous system has to recalculate whether we’re safe with this person, whether they’re in a good mood or not and whether we’re still connected.”

Obviously, a hug can’t replace real, quality time with your partner. But it can quickly restore a feeling of connection and safety on a daily basis, and that’s an important place to start if you want to maintain a healthy relationship.

 

ajr_images / istockphoto

 

My husband and I use a simple but structured daily check-in to keep us in sync. We pick a regular time—after the kids are in bed or first thing in the morning are usually good bets—and take turns sharing our current hopes and concerns, which range from a deep-dive into a work conundrum or “Are we ready to have another baby?” to “Who’s going to drop the kids off at camp tomorrow?”

We’ve found that a thank-you as part of our regular check-in goes a long way toward helping us both feel grateful and appreciated.

“You can take turns talking for five minutes each. Simply share what’s on your mind, or what the highs and lows of your day were,” says Ottow.

Separately, remember to set aside a regular time for financial check-ins. In many cases, one spouse tends to manage the money more than the other. Even where this doesn’t spiral into full-on financial abuse, it can create room for animosity and resentment. Plus, demonstrating healthy financial habits can help keep your child from inheriting your money baggage.

To make sure you and your spouse both feel empowered financially, plan your check-ins monthly or bi-weekly. Keeping up on money communication can not only boost your family’s financial wellbeing but also minimize conflict down the road. All of that can increase your chances of keeping your marriage happy.

 

Rawpixel / istockphoto

 

It can be easy for our conversations to fall into mundane patterns: how was work, what’re we eating for dinner, can you deal with bedtime tonight?

One way to break free is to give yourself more interesting things, and shared experiences, to talk about. Ottow suggests choosing a book to read together—and she’ll award you bonus points if you choose a book on relationships or parenting. Then again, if you both love thrillers or historical fiction, a lighter read might also do the trick.

A friend of mine reads a book about philosophy with her husband every weekend. They read out loud to each other, pausing to discuss anything they find interesting, so it takes them a long time to actually get through anything. But they don’t mind, because that’s not the point.

If you’d like to finish reading your books in a more timely manner, you and your partner might separately read a chapter and then set a time to discuss what you’ve read. Although it can be hard to find a quiet moment for serious conversation, you might schedule a regular appointment so you don’t need to negotiate (or put off) your “book club date.” You might also time it to your child’s naptime or do it at night after he or she has gone to bed.

If getting through a book sounds too ambitious, try answering questions together like the Gottman Institute’s Love Map questions or these 36 “questions for increasing closeness.”

 

bernardbodo / istockphoto

 

Howard recommends couples learn a few basic massage techniques. “It’s relaxing and de-stressing, which parents really need, and it’s also bonding and romantic,” he says.

No need to go crazy with massage oils or Hollywood-perfect ambiance (unless you want to!). Simply connecting, touching, is a powerful way to center yourselves and cultivate a healthy relationship.

Howard recommends couples carve out a few nights a week to give each other a quick foot or shoulder massage.

 

Wavebreakmedia / istockphoto

 

I know how challenging it can be to get out of the house without the kids when you’re a new parent, but there really is no romantic substitute for alone time with your partner. Time to get over that FOMO and just get out there.

If the cost of childcare is getting in the way, consider a babysitting swap with friends. You could casually take turns swapping childcare with another couple, or even use an app to find a babysitter or to organize your friends and family into a network available for babysitting swaps.

If you have a colicky or sleep-challenged child (like mine was) and would rather not inflict the bedtime routine on an outsider—or you’re so simply exhausted that going out at night will leave you more sleep-deprived—you could always go out for weekend brunch, instead. (And I promise, your kid won’t always be a colicky sleep-fighter.)

 

lostinbids / istockphoto

 

Kids aren’t the only ones who need to play. Incorporating lighthearted moments into your day can go a long way toward reminding you and your significant other that you’re more than just business partners.

I thought my husband was crazy when he suggested spending a coveted date night at the indoor trampoline park we’d taken our kids to, but it turned out to be one of our best dates ever.

The music was fun, upbeat and loud enough that we couldn’t default to talking about our kids. As we bounced, jousted each other and attempted to complete the ninja obstacle course together, we giggled like, well, children. Playing together (without the kids!) helped us remember how much fun we’re capable of having together.

 

jacoblund / istockphoto

 

Megan Marshall, a real parent of a nine-year-old and a toddler, stays united with her husband by exchanging practical jokes. Her husband delights in rigging up stuffed animals with scary masks and clothes and placing them in unexpected places to scare her.

Meanwhile, she says, “I’ve been known to place random items for sale on Craigslist with his contact information, so he’ll suddenly be inundated with calls about the cherry red Ford Mustang he’s selling for cheap.” Although it may sound silly, she says, “These shenanigans, which date way back to when it was just the two of us, give us a reason to laugh and be silly, which is necessary for our relationship, and also good for our kids to see.”

 

FlairImages / istockphoto

 

Howard often prescribes improv acting classes for the couples he works with. “It loosens people up, makes them laugh and gets them comfortable playing with emotions like shame, embarrassment and failure—emotions we all experience but don’t always acknowledge,” he says.

Staying connected while you’re in the parenting trenches helps you and your partner enjoy the wild ride, and keeps your marriage happy.

As your kids get older, it’ll become easier to prioritize your partnership.

Ottow promises, “You’ll figure out your groove with teamwork, your sex life will return and your house will (sometimes) be clean again!”

This article originally appeared on MeetFabric.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto

 

Featured Image Credit: Viacheslav Peretiatko / iStock.

AlertMe