If you can't get close enough to your significant other (or non-significant other), scientific studies have your back, quite literally. As it turns out, cuddling might as well be a miracle drug.
Most of us already know that cuddling with someone, be it our pets, best friends, partners or kids, makes us feel cozy, safe and warm. It's what we want to do when it's drafty in our apartments, or when The Walking Dead is on and we can't handle watching zombies take big sloppy bites out of humans alone, or when we're just bummed out and need a soft surface to lay our heads.
But could snuggling be scientifically proven to be healthy? Thank goodness — the answer is yes. Here are five reasons why:
When you're physically close to someone, you tend to feel happier and healthier. According to Women's Health Magazine, "touching someone releases [dopamine and serotonin], both of which can boost your mood and curb depression."
Furthermore, when a person is physically close to someone, his or her body releases oxytocin, another "happy chemical" that contributes to us cultivating and maintaining intimate, healthy relationships. According to Paul Zak, an expert on the beloved hormone and self-proclaimed "Dr. Love," oxytocin is the "moral molecule behind all human virtue, trust, affection and love, a 'social glue' that keeps society together." A hand hold, a snuggle, a hug — all of these actions supposedly increase levels of oxytocin.
Oxytocin isn't necessarily a miracle molecule, of course. Jennifer Bartz from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for example, discovered that the effects of oxytocin really depend on an individual's personality and perspective, according to Slate. But several studies have pointed to the molecule's ability to promote "feelings of devotion, trust and bonding" between people, giving oxytocin its title of "the bonding hormone."
Intimacy is healthy. The human touch has been shown to drop a person's levels of cortisol, the main biological culprit of stress. As Roberta Lee of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York explains, "Cortisol suppresses the immune response. Anything that increases the relaxation response triggers the restoration of your immune response."
The result: Your body is more able to fight off viruses and inflammation, making you happier and healthier.
Not only does close proximity to other humans make you feel happier, it can also decrease your worries and anxiety. When you touch someone, the skin-on-skin contact signals your adrenal glands to cease excessive amounts of cortisol production, the aforementioned stress hormone.
"Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response," Matt Hertenstein of DePauw University told NPR.
James Coan, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, conducted a study that illustrated the helpfulness of the human touch, specifically hand holding. While administering MRIs, he warned 16 married women that they might "experience shock." Each woman's state of anxiety was instantly illuminated in the MRI scans. But when these women held each other's hands for comfort, their elevated stress response subsided. When their husbands held their hands, the ladies grew even more relaxed.
"There was a qualitative shift in the number of regions in the brain that just weren't reacting anymore to the threat cue, Coan told CNN. As Coan and his colleagues noted in their paper on the study, marital hand-holding influenced the neural activation in the hypothalamus, which in turn influences the release of cortisol.
Oxytocin does more than help us bond and potentially increase happiness. Since increased levels of oxytocin help you relax and reduce high blood pressure, it could also be connected with better sleep alongside your partner, Rachel E. Salas of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep suggested.
Moreover, studies have found "suggestive evidence that couples' emotional closeness and physical intimacy during the daytime and prior to bedtime may promote sleep," which we'd presume makes each bed partner happier — read: less grumpy — the next day. So get your eight hours with your significant other or another warm body by your side.
Studies have shown that couples that regularly cuddle and snuggle in bed are most likely in healthier relationships.
"One of the most important differences involved touching. Ninety-four percent of couples who spent the night in contact with one another were happy with their relationship, compared to just 68% of those that didn't touch," Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in England told the Telegraph. While 68% isn't the lowest number in the world, 94% would seem to reflect positively on the effectiveness of cuddling and touching at night.
Moreover, couples who used to be more physically affectionate but have since cut back on cuddling could potentially be in bad shape. According to Wiseman, "If you have a couple who used to sleep close together but are now drifting further apart in bed, then that could [be] symptomatic of them growing apart when they are awake."
The bottom line? Cuddling is definitively excellent. So if you want to spend the evening cuddled up on the couch with the closest person you can find, you should. Because science says so, and you would be doing your body some good.
Keep calm and spoon on.