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What does cuddling do?

Cuddling is an intimate act of holding another person close to one’s body. It often involves wrapping arms around each other and pressing bodies together. Cuddling is a common way for romantic partners to bond, but it can also occur platonically between friends or family members. Scientifically speaking, the act of cuddling releases hormones in the brain that have several positive effects on the body and emotions. Read on to learn more about the fascinating science behind cuddling and all the benefits it can provide.

Releases Oxytocin

One of the main effects of cuddling is that it releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone” because levels of it increase when people snuggle up. Oxytocin helps promote bonding and feelings of affection. It can aid in relaxation, increase trust, reduce anxiety, and protect against the effects of stress.

When engaging in skin-to-skin contact like cuddling, oxytocin is released into the bloodstream. Even small amounts of touch can trigger this hormone release. Oxytocin helps facilitate social connections between individuals. It enhances the sense of connection which in turn reinforces the desire to continue cuddling with the other person.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Cuddling has been shown in studies to help lower blood pressure. The release of oxytocin during cuddling helps arteries relax and expand which decreases blood pressure. Lower blood pressure reduces strain on the heart and blood vessels.

One study measured blood pressure in couples before and after they hugged. Right after a 20-second hug, participants’systolic blood pressure decreased. This finding suggests cuddling’s calming effects can also translate to measurable physical cardiovascular benefits. Over the long-term, consistently lower blood pressure reduces the risk of health problems like heart attack and stroke.

Eases Stress

Cortisol is a hormone released when the body experiences stress. High levels of cortisol can interfere with sleep, appetite and mood. Cuddling helps keep cortisol under control by stimulating the release of oxytocin which has an anxiety-reducing effect.

One study found cuddling before a stressful situation substantially reduced cortisol levels compared to not being touched. The physical affection helped participants maintain lower stress levels. As a result, cuddling prior to stressful events may weaken the cortisol spike and intensity of the body’s stress response.

Promotes Relaxation

Cuddling has proven relaxing effects. The release of oxytocin during cuddling causes muscles to relax. When oxytocin acts on receptors in the amygdala region of the brain it soothes anxious nerves. This produces an overall calming effect.

Studies show oxytocin decreases blood levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone, a molecule involved in stress response. Lower levels of this hormone induce relaxation. Through these mechanisms, cuddling helps switch the body into a more tranquil state. This helps promote restful sleep when cuddling precedes bedtime.

Reduces Pain

The same biology that allows cuddling to ease anxiety also helps inhibit pain signals. When someone is cuddling another person, their brain releases more oxytocin. In addition to reducing stress, oxytocin can dull discomfort.

Oxytocin interacts with opioid receptors in the brain responsible for pain regulation. Studies demonstrate coupling oxytocin administration with warm touch maximizes pain relief. The combination of elevated oxytocin from cuddling and the soothing sensation of touch can significantly decrease pain sensitivity.

Boosts Mood

Through encouraging relaxation, lowering stress and facilitating human connection, cuddling elevates mood. The mood-boosting effects primarily stem from cuddling’s ability to stimulate oxytocin and suppress cortisol.

One study instructed participants to either cuddle with their romantic partner for 20 minutes, engage in positive conversation or separately read quietly. The individuals who cuddled reported the greatest improvements in mood based on survey results. Getting cozy can be an instant pick-me-up when feeling low.

Deepens Bonds

Cuddling plays a role in producing emotional closeness between individuals. When two people engage in physical touch like cuddling it activates brain pathways involved in trust and bonding. These pathways reinforce feelings of social connection.

Snuggling up with someone also fosters stability in relationships. Partners who cuddle frequently report greater relationship satisfaction. The reciprocal vulnerability and comfort inherent to cuddling builds intimacy. Through both biochemistry and comfort, frequent cuddling strengthens interpersonal attachments.

Alleviates Social Rejection

The neurochemical response activated by cuddling also helps soothe emotional pain. Studies demonstrate cuddling a trusted partner after experiencing social exclusion or rejection can help alleviate those negative feelings.

The increase in oxytocin along with the comforting familiarity of a caregiving relationship overrides the sting of rejection. Cuddling an accepting partner reminds the brain of social safety and belonging. By easing social distress, cuddling promotes resilience.

Improves Sleep

Cuddling before bedtime leads to improved sleep quality. Oxytocin release relaxes muscles and calms the mind – both of which are key precursors to restful sleep. Plus, holding or being held provides a sense of security that helps limit anxious thoughts and eases the transition into slumber.

A survey of over 1,000 couples found that partners who snuggled in bed slept more soundly. The results showed cuddling led to less tossing and turning. For people who struggle with insomnia or lay awake due to stress, cuddling may offer the soothing touch needed to fall asleep faster.

Supports Immune System

Hugging or snuggling up in bed provides extensive skin-to-skin contact. This physical connection has been shown to support immune function.

Oxytocin production sparked by touch enhances the activity of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell involved in defending the body against infection. Oxytocin also promotes healing by reducing inflammation. By modulating the immune system, routine interpersonal touch from cuddling may help ward off disease.

Decreases Depression

The comforting intimacy of cuddling releases neurochemicals that elevate mood and counteract depressive feelings. Oxytocin reduces activity in brain areas connected to depression and fear while endorphins produce sensations of pleasure. These biological effects make cuddling an effective pick-me-up to alleviate sadness.

Studies reveal both giving and receiving affection, especially when coupled with oxytocin-enhancing warm touch, substantially decreases depressive symptoms. Cuddling’s ability to decrease social isolation and reinforce self-worth provides mood-boosting benefits as well.

Slows Aging

Close personal contact and communal living are associated with enhanced longevity in human populations. Behaviors like routine cuddling that reinforce social bonding may help extend lifespan.

Oxytocin’s ability to reduce stress also has anti-aging effects. Chronic stress quickens cellular aging. Oxytocin inhibits stress hormones and inflammation in the body which could slow the degradation of telomeres. Telomeres are DNA sequences that shorten as cells replicate – their preservation promotes longevity.

Benefits Brain Health

Oxytocin flowing through the brain during cuddling builds and repairs connections between neurons. Better neural connectivity strengthens cognitive function and memory, especially later in life.

Animal studies reveal oxytocin administration stimulates nerve growth and development. The hormone prompts neurons to produce new branches that reach other cells. By enhancing brain plasticity, oxytocin from bonding behaviors like cuddling may aid in learning and maintaining a sharp mind.


Cuddling has extensive evidence-based health benefits ranging from reducing blood pressure to easing depression. The simple act of holding another person close releases natural oxytocin which lowers stress and brings comfort. Snuggling up also reinforces social bonds between friends, partners and family. Making time to get cozy offers measurable mental and physical rewards. The soothing touch of cuddling possesses a powerful healing power that everyone should take advantage of.