One of the reasons that make social distancing during this pandemic is so hard is because we are all hardwired to crave physical connection from birth. This is often why hospitals will have nurses rock abandoned newborn babies, or why some companies offer ‘cuddle-for-hire’ services to beat depression. Physical touch is great not only for your mental health and happiness but your physical vitality, too. If you’ve been quarantining with your significant other, you might feel like you’ve been seeing plenty of each other lately, but here are some surprising ways that a simple spooning session can make you feel closer (plus improve your health!).
It makes you feel bonded to your partner
Spooning is easy: Lay side-by-side with your partner, but face the same direction so you nestle together like spoons. Dr. Sarah Schewitz, love and relationship psychologist says the act of snuggling up with your one-and-only is one of the most meaningful ways to bond. As she explains, world-renowned marriage researchers, Drs John and Julie Gottman discovered that a six-second kiss or a 20-second hug releases the brain hormone, oxytocin. When a woman gives birth to her child, this same chemical is released, creating that special, unique bond.
In addition to, well, feeling good, what’s happening underneath our ‘hood’ is also fascinating — and impressive. As Dr. Schewitz explains, plenty of bodily changes happen as oxytocin is released. Within a few minutes, she says you will notice stress fall to the side, anxiety lightens, and your blood pressure decrease. She notes that frequent cuddling can actually lower your risk of heart disease.
It improves your sleep quality
Need your personal space when you’re falling asleep? Totally fine. But consider a quick spooning session before you separate to opposite sides of the bed and see how your sleep quality changes. Sex expert and founder of The Cuddle Collective, Kat Thomas, explains that since our caveman days, we have slept family-style to remain warm. Up until recent centuries, this was true for the whole family: not just husband and wife but brothers and sisters, too, all to remain heated. Today, Thomas says cuddling has been directly linked to helping our bodies relax and our minds to stop spiraling so we can sleep faster and better.
It fosters intimacy — and can improve your sex life
When a couple is struggling with their sex life, relationship therapists will often suggest spending more time cuddling first. Even if you do this with your clothes on, you’re still making the active decision to pause the chaos of life around you and focus solely on you and your partner. In return, you create intimacy. As Davis explains, this translates to feeling more comfortable and synced together. “Researchers explain that close relationships exert influences on health in daily life and part of this influence is due to intimacy,” she continues. “With cuddling being a form of intimacy, it makes great sense that it will have positive and lasting health effects on people who participate in it.” Chances are the more time you spend locked in a G-rated embrace, the more intrigued you will be to turn up the heat.
The hormone oxytocin is what is stimulated when we are faced with anything we adore or are addicted to.
It can decrease your hunger
Ever had one of those lazy Sunday mornings, where you both decided to sleep in, and suddenly it was 2 p.m.? Even though you’re both normally ravenous for food, you were too busy cuddling up together that you forgot all about coffee, breakfast and lunch. Dr. Schewitz says that spooning can actually become more important than food. In one famous experiment, Dr. Harry F. Harlow gave infant monkeys two options: a ‘mother’ made of wire with nipples that dispenses food and another ‘mother’ made of cloth that didn’t have any food but held them. When given the choice between a mama holding some delicious food and the mom with zero grub, the monkeys still gravitated toward the parent who snuggled them. In an essence, this demonstrates that creatures will select those who take care of them via cuddling, over those who can readily feed them.
It gives you a natural high
There have been many songs comparing being in love to being on drugs — and that’s not just because it makes for some catchy, fun lyrics. As Thomas explains, the hormone oxytocin is what is stimulated when we are faced with anything we adore or are addicted to. This is true for not only alcohol, gambling, drugs and other addictions, but also affection. Many people will actually go through an oxytocin withdrawal when they’re dealing with a breakup, much like how an addict will detox from a high. When we are feeling depressed or anxious, Thomas says a hug can go a long way in fighting loneliness and despair.
It reduces your stress levels
When it’s half-way through the workday and you’re looking at another three-hour stretch of back-to-back Zoom meetings, you close your eyes and wish you were snuggled up in bed with your partner. This thought alone may make you feel a little less anxious, according to Dr. Schewitz, but nothing can quite replace the stress-fighting abilities of an actual cuddle.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, out-of-whack and unable to find our footing, our body produces cortisol, which is often referred to as the ‘stress’ hormone. When we spoon with someone we love, we release that oxytocin we keep talking about, and this combats cortisol levels, replacing them with feel-good vibes.
It makes you feel more fulfilled in your relationship
While it’s true that everyone has a different love language, it’s also true that all need some sort of affection to make it the long haul, according to Thomas. In fact, one researcher, Amy Muise, studied 500 folks in relationships over two years. She recorded their post-sex activities — including cuddling and kissing and so on — and discovered a significant correlation between happiness and cuddling. “The longer the amount of time that couples practiced post-sexual affection, the greater their sexual and relationship satisfaction were,” Thomas noted.
Now all you need to decide is if you’re the big spoon or the little one.
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