We often hear about how much better sleep is, when we are held by our partner, or we snuggle up with our pets or even hug our favourite pillow.
The factor that makes all the difference in this universal need to “cuddle up”, is the changes that are happening in our brains and bodies. Several studies have shown that:
- During hugging oxytocin is produced, a hormone that is often referred to as “the hormone of love”. This hormone has an important role biologically, since it helps with womb dilation during labour and also with producing milk while nursing. It is a hormone which is central to our survival from the first moments of our lives, and it seems that it is present in equal amounts in persons not actively involved in giving birth or nursing, but actively participating in the parental relationship. Generally, any activity that has to do with caregiving, triggers the secretion of this highly valuable for our mental health hormone.
- Sleeping in a loving embrace, also lowers the levels of cortisol. This is the commonly known “stress hormone”, which plays an important role in almost all functions of our bodies. Cortisol is imperative for our survival; it is what mobilizes us in case of danger, what gives us “energy” to get out of bed and be functional and productive during the day; it is responsible for making our distant ancestors run and seek shelter and protection when the wild animals were chasing them in the woods. Nevertheless, when this hormone’s levels rise, it tends to become dangerous. Cortisol levels rise in proportion to our stress levels, either due to a traumatic event, such as a loss, a divorce or a pandemic, or due to an accumulation of stress which can be caused by small things in our daily lives. When cortisol becomes a threat it can cause cardiovascular diseases, obesity, depression and various other medical or psychological problems.
It is fairly obvious how therapeutic and powerful a loving embrace during sleep is, and how much we can benefit from it.
Milan Kundera in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” wrote that: “Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation but in the desire for shared sleep” and Toulouse-Lautrec in his painting “Le Lit”, beautifully captures a couple sleeping together under a blanket. Both are examples of how shared sleep seems to have been a haven for humans since the beginning of time.
Eminent psychologist Virginia Satir once said that: “we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth”.
Imagine what a long, all-night hug can do.
By Maira Zarenti, Psychologist (MSc).