8 Surprising Health Benefits of Cuddling
We are all familiar with the feeling of comfort that washes over us when we enter the embrace of a loved one. Whether it is a hug from a friend or a cuddle session with your significant other, there’s a reason why physical touch is one of the biggest ways we show affection to another person. It's one of the major benefits of cuddling. Beside the social factors associated with cuddling, is cuddling good for your health as well?
Health Benefits of Cuddling
But why does physical touch elicit so much joy? There’s actually a biochemical reason behind our physical desires. All types of touch, including cuddling and hugs, release the hormone oxytocin from your brain’s pituitary gland. This hormone is also known as the “love” hormone since it is the hormone that spikes (1) during orgasm. It is so powerful that it has been shown to increase bonding between couples. But oxytocin does way more than just that. Studies have shown this hormone to have many other powerful health benefits. Let’s explore each of the incredible health benefits of cuddling:
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1. Cuddling improves sleep
Close to 22 million Americans (2) struggle with sleep apnea. With this condition, breathing starts and stops throughout the night making it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. Studies have shown (3) that administering oxytocin can improve the quality and amount of sleep, as well as improve cardiorespiratory homeostasis. More research needs to be done to fully understand the exact role oxytocin plays helping sleep apnea. But it’s definitely a good excuse to cuddle up before catching some Zzs!
2. Physical touch can curb cravings and halt weight gain
This may be one of the more unexpected benefits of cuddling. Hormone imbalances and many underlying factors play a role in weight gain and the inability to lose weight. However, when it comes to the psychological side of eating and binge eating, oxytocin is powerful in reducing the desire (4) to eat for pleasure. In fact, it can increase the feeling of being satiated which will limit the need for reward-based eating.
3. Oxytocin eases chronic pain
Low oxytocin levels have been found in people dealing with chronic pain. One study looked at children with recurring stomach pain and compared them to children without stomach pain and found that those with pain had lower oxytocin levels. Studies have shown (5) that oxytocin was able to lower pain in people with cancer, back pain, and IBS.
4. Cuddling strengthens immunity
Around 75 percent of your immune system is located in your gut. Your gut and brain are inextricably linked through the gut-brain axis. Ever wondered what was behind that feeling of butterflies in your stomach? Look no further than oxytocin – just one more example of how your gut really is your “second brain.” Your T-regulatory cells, which are responsible (6) for keeping your immune system balanced, are boosted (7) when there is an increase in oxytocin.
5. Cuddling lowers inflammation
In functional medicine, chronic inflammation is one of the main things we look for when assessing a person’s health, making this one of the most important cuddling benefits. Besides just boosting inflammation-fighting T-regulatory cells, oxytocin also works to lower inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-6.
6. Physical touch reduces anxiety
No one can argue that cuddling is a peaceful activity, but does cuddling reduce stress? Now, science is showing (8) oxytocin’s ability to lower anxiety, even in severe anxiety disorders and generalized anxiety disorders. Hold your sweetie’s hand to calm your nerves next time you are feeling anxious.
7. Oxytocin reduces heart disease risk
Stress, anxiety, chronic inflammation, and high blood pressure – all risk factors for heart disease – are lowered when your body releases oxytocin. So, in honor of your health, cuddle away!
8. Cuddling strengthens relationships
Does cuddling make you fall in love? As I said earlier, oxytocin is also known as the “love” hormone for its ability to increase bonding in romantic partners and all other relationships as well! Oxytocin is a hormone closely associated with childbirth. During labor, your body releases oxytocin to help your uterus contract and help ready itself for childbirth. Afterwards, it helps strengthen the mother and child bond.
So is it healthy to cuddle? Absolutely! By understanding the benefits of physical touch and how oxytocin is released in the body, it serves as a reminder that health is not a journey one takes alone. Wellness is about taking time to care for ourselves, our community, and our planet.
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- Dirk Scheele, Nadine Striepens, Onur Güntürkün, Sandra Deutschländer, Wolfgang Maier, Keith M. Kendrick and René Hurlemann Oxytocin Modulates Social Distance between Males and Females Journal of Neuroscience 14 November 2012, 32 (46) 16074-16079; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2755-12.2012
- Sleep Apnea Information for Clinicians American Sleep Apnea Association https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea-information-clinicians/
- Jain V, Marbach J, Kimbro S, et al. Benefits of oxytocin administration in obstructive sleep apnea. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2017;313(5):L825‐L833. doi:10.1152/ajplung.00206.2017
- Olszewski PK, Klockars A, Levine AS. Oxytocin and potential benefits for obesity treatment. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2017;24(5):320‐325. doi:10.1097/MED.0000000000000351
- Goodin BR, Ness TJ, Robbins MT. Oxytocin - a multifunctional analgesic for chronic deep tissue pain. Curr Pharm Des. 2015;21(7):906‐913. doi:10.2174/1381612820666141027111843
- Palomares O, Yaman G, Azkur AK, Akkoc T, Akdis M, Akdis CA. Role of Treg in immune regulation of allergic diseases. Eur J Immunol. 2010;40(5):1232‐1240. doi:10.1002/eji.200940045
- Theofilos Poutahidis, Sean M. Kearney, Tatiana Levkovich, Peimin Qi, Bernard J. Varian, Jessica R. Lakritz, Yassin M. Ibrahim, Antonis Chatzigiagkos, Eric J. Alm, Susan E. Erdman Microbial Symbionts Accelerate Wound Healing via the Neuropeptide Hormone Oxytocin PLOS ONE October 30, 2013 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078898
- Naja WJ, Aoun MP. Oxytocin and Anxiety Disorders: Translational and Therapeutic Aspects. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017;19(10):67. Published 2017 Aug 15. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0819-1
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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