Six Surprising Ways Cuddling Can Improve Your Sleep
Cuddling feels great, but did you know that there are actual health benefits? Cuddling can trigger all kinds of happy hormones which in turn create the perfect conditions for sleep. So, think twice before sending your partner to sleep on the sofa!
We spoke to Dr Deborah Lee at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy about the surprising ways that cuddling can improve your sleep.
Six Surprising Ways that Cuddling Can Improve Your Sleep
The more relaxed you are in body and mind, the better quality of sleep you’ll have. To improve your sleep, you’ll need to find your zen and make your body feel as comfortable as possible. Finding this zen and comfort is highly dependent on the chemicals your body is releasing – many of which can be triggered by cuddling.
“Cuddling is a wonderful way to establish closeness, peace, warmth and security. Snuggling up, being close to your other person, and the experience of light touch leads to a whole raft of physiological and biochemical reactions which are conducive for sleep,” states Dr Deborah Lee
Let’s look at some of the benefits of cuddling that improve the quality of your sleep…
1. It can help improve your mood, making it easier to fall asleep
Dr Deborah Lee said, “cuddling releases serotonin into your body.”
Otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is also known to play a significant role in the sleep/wake cycle by regulating your sleep stages and the depth of your sleep. Having low levels of serotonin can contradict this pattern, and result in worse sleep.
However, the act of cuddling can increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood, whilst decreasing any feelings of anxiety.
2. It can decrease everyday aches and pains
Whether you’re holding tension in your neck and shoulders from working at an office desk, or your muscles are recovering from a particularly vigorous workout, that lingering pain can affect the quality of your sleep. However, research shows that cuddling helps release another happy hormone, dopamine, which relaxes your muscles and relieves the pain, improving the quality of your sleep in the process.
3. It helps lower your stress levels before bedtime
Throughout the day we build up the stress hormone cortisol – some days more than others! This can have a direct impact on your sleep. This then inadvertently can make tomorrow more stressful, especially if you have a long to-do list. To stop this vicious cycle, consider a cuddle.
Dr Deborah Lee said, ”nerve impulses pass through the skin and peripheral nerves to travel up the spine to the brain, where they stimulate the release of the ‘cuddle hormone,’ oxytocin, and the ‘happy hormones,’ serotonin and dopamine. As a result, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are also reduced.”
Oxytocin in particular is known to suppress cortisol levels. This means you’re more likely to sleep better. And, therefore be better prepared to handle the stress of the day ahead.
4. Your blood pressure will also lower, decreasing your chances of insomnia
Less stress means lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressure means you’re less at risk from cardiovascular disease and certain sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia. Contact with a partner has been known to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, lowering blood pressure and resulting in better quality sleep.
5. You will feel more safe and secure in your relationship
It stands to reason that increased contact with a partner leads to a happier relationship. But this is also scientifically proven.
Dr Deborah Lee said, “In one 2019 study, 80 couples were randomly assigned to one of three groups, a cuddling group where the couple cuddled more often, a group where the couple spent more time together, and a control group where nothing changed. After 4 weeks, the cuddling group showed the greatest increase in relationship satisfaction and quality of life.”
So how does this impact sleep quality? Well, it’s also scientifically proven that partners in a happy relationship who sleep in the same bed get a better night’s sleep.
Dr Deborah Lee adds, “Research has shown that when a partner is away on a business trip for a few nights, both partners report a reduction in sleep quality. When they are reunited, a better sleep pattern is quickly re-established. The non-travelling partner has often been suffering from separation anxiety, which translates into meaning, that for good sleep, we need to feel connected to our partners, and feel safe and secure.”
6. It helps boost your immune system, making it easier to fall asleep
A healthy body is a happy body that is more likely to enjoy quality sleep. Therapeutic touch such as massage and cuddling is said to have a positive effect on your immune system. This makes it easier to fight off coughs, colds and other illnesses. All of these can keep you awake at night.
Dr Deborah Lee said, “massage is known to help lower stress and anxiety. In one 2004 study, a group of breast cancer patients were randomly assigned to a massage group, who received 3 x 30-minute massage sessions per week for 5 weeks, and a control group that did not. At the end of the study, the massage group showed lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as higher urinary levels of dopamine and serotonin, and increased levels of natural killer (NK) cells and lymphocytes. Massage may also, therefore, have some benefits for the immune system.”
Cuddling can be just as therapeutic as massage. But if you want to use this as an excuse to get a massage off your partner too, we won’t tell.
Three Top Tips for Making Your Cuddle More Sleep-Friendly
1. Cuddling before you sleep is best
Dr Deborah Lee said, “cuddling before sleep will help those warm, secure feelings to set in, and help you drift off to sleep. During the night, you may want to snuggle up again and reinforce those intense feelings. It can be hard to actually sleep, tangled up with arms and legs. But a cuddle before you drift off, and knowing the other person is near, is really what it’s all about.”
2. Have two separate duvets to increase your sleep quality
The bed needs to be comfortable. It’s no good putting up with that old saggy mattress where both partners tend to roll into the middle! Everyone is recommended to replace their mattress at least once every seven years.
It’s now possible to purchase a double mattress, zipped up the middle. So each person can have a mattress with a different degree of firmness. Invest in high-quality bedding, with anti-allergy fabrics, and a clean, hypoallergenic duvet. Two single duvets may be better if you tend to fight over who is hogging the duvet!
3. Sleep naked to fall asleep faster
Dr Deborah Lee said, “for a top tip, try sleeping naked! Skin to skin contact produces more oxytocin. Rapid cooling of the body aids the onset of sleep. Yes, sleeping naked can facilitate sleep and help you to fall asleep more quickly.”
No partner to snuggle? No problem! Try a weighted blanket
There are several benefits of cuddling yourself to sleep:
- A cooler sleep temperature
- More consistent sleeping position
- No disturbances such as snoring
You can get similar effects of cuddling from a weighted blanket. When under one, they feel like a hug due to their technique of deep pressure stimulation (DPS) to make the user feel more secure, whilst relaxing their nervous system.
Four benefits of using a weighted blanket before bedtime
However, there are many other benefits of using a weighted blanket.
1. Encourages deeper sleep
As previously mentioned, serotonin is a chemical that impacts your sleep-wake cycle by regulating your sleep stages and impacting the depth of your sleep, however, research shows that using a weighted blanket before bed can stimulate the release of serotonin. In turn, this helps the user sleep more peacefully and soundly.
2. Decreases night-time anxiety
Weighted blankets are also favoured by those who have anxiety and/or depression. Part of this is because a weighted blanket is often incorporated into a person’s self-care routine at night-time, however, using one also positively impacts their autonomic nervous system.
When it is overactive, it can lead to anxiety and hyperactivity, especially at bedtime you finally stop moving for the day and may be left with your brain processing everything from tomorrow’s to-do list to the feeling of FOMO. However, using a weighted blanket on an afternoon helps put your nervous system into “rest mode”, and slows down your heart rate.
3. Stops you from tossing and turning at night
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, a weighted blanket can help reduce this movement due to its heaviness. This is also known as the ‘cocooning’ effect, which many parents do to their newborn babies to help them sleep more soundly at night.
4. Improves your mood
Using a weighted blanket can also improve your mood as the weight increases the production of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol – both of which can have a significant impact on your sleep.