Sleep Science

The Science Of Cuddling

24 Jan 20194 min read

Everyone loves a good cuddle, but many people aren’t aware of the numerous benefits associated with a simple hug.

While they are primarily seen as a way of feeling closer to a loved one whether they’re a friend, family member or partner, cuddling has a range of surprising positive effects that span both physical and mental health.

Our research has found that:

  • The UK’s favourite cuddling position is ‘The Seated Snuggle’ showing that Brits love getting cosy on the sofa.
  • While men agree with the overall winner, women prefer ‘The Chest Rest’ – an intimate bed-based hug.
  • Less intimate hugs like ‘The Pretzel’ and ‘Back-to-Back’ ranked lower showing that UK couples prefer closer contact both on the sofa and in bed.
  • Couples who cuddle more report having a better sex life.
  • Your immune system, memory and even your blood pressure can be positively affected by a hug from a loved one.

The UK’s favourite hug revealed

We scoured the web for the most common cuddling positions for couples and compiled a top 10 list for our survey respondents to choose from. Here is what they picked as their ultimate hug:


The mental and physical health benefits of hugs

Aside from feeling good and bringing you closer together with a partner or friend, having a cuddle is also good for you in a number of ways you’ll have never even considered.

1. Increased intimacy and sexual satisfaction

While it’s not exactly ground-breaking to claim that a cuddle can lead to physical intimacy, it’s important to remember to save some hugs for afterwards. This comprehensive 2014 study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council found that couples cuddled after sex claimed to have increased sexual satisfaction as well as overall relationship satisfaction.

2. Helping you communicate emotions

Hugs aren’t just a source of physical stimulation, they can also affect how we feel and communicate our emotions. 2012 research by psychologist Jan Åström explains that emotions such as love, gratitude, and sympathy between loved ones can all be expressed via a simple hug. So, essentially, opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, happiness and sadness can also be communicated through touch.

3. Lowering anxiety and stress

With cases of anxiety on the rise, it’s reassuring to know that something as simple as a hug from a friend, partner or loved one could mitigate the symptoms. 2014 findings from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) showed that cuddling is an effective way to reduce the harmful effects of stress, reaffirming a connection with someone close to you and providing benefits to your mental wellbeing.

4. Boosting your immune system

The same CMU study found that people who cuddled more often were less prone to illness than those who shun hugs. Dr Sheldon Cohen who led the research concluded that:

“The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioural indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”

This essentially means that cuddling protects you from infections, as the huggers in the study experienced less severe symptoms of everyday illnesses.

5. Providing pain relief

Research conducted by Israel’s Haifa University in 2016 found that an empathetic touch from a loved one such as a partner or family member can reduce a person’s pain response. This ranges from a comforting hand hold right up to the all-important hug which, according to the report, all have an ‘analgesic effect’ i.e. pain relief usually associated with medicine.

6. Lowering blood pressure and improving memory

The Medical University of Vienna researched hugging in 2013 and found that there are many benefits – as long as you know the person well. These positive effects include lowering blood pressure and improving memory as well as increasing levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with increased social bonding. Their findings show the benefits of cuddling cover both physical and mental wellbeing.

It can sometimes seem hard to find time to properly relax and be intimate with those close to us. However, a simple hug can reinforce the connection between people and, as you’ve seen, provide a whole host of positive outcomes.

While we’re not suggesting that a cuddle can instantly cure what ails you, it’s reassuring to know that plenty of research has shown a good hug from a friend, partner or family member can be beneficial to your physical and mental wellbeing.

For more articles on wellbeing and a whole host of other topics – visit the Mattress Online blog.