Huggers made history this past weekend: Cuddle Con, the world’s first cuddling convention, went down in (where else?) Portland, Oregon. The event was the brainchild of Samantha Hess, founder of Cuddle Up To Me, a professional cuddling service that offers snuggles at a rate of a dollar per minute, for up to five hours.
The concept for Cuddle Con was simple: Gather a bunch of strangers in a room and encourage them to engage in platonic cuddling. The event drew amused headlines, but Americans aren’t the first to seek hugs outside of a romantic relationship: Japan has had cuddle rooms for years, in which people (usually men) pay money for snuggle time.
While embracing strangers may terrify those of us who value personal space, there’s real science behind the benefits of positive touch. From reducing stress to combating depression, cuddling is the coziest medicine.
Cuddles can fight infection.
Forget Emergen-C. Last year, a study found that hugging could help fight the common cold. Researchers safely exposed 404 adults to a virus that causes the illness and found that participants who had strong support systems and received frequent hugs experienced less severe symptoms.
Cuddles can reduce stress.
When we’re stressed out, our cortisol spikes—which can weaken our immune system, increase blood pressure, and generally wreak havoc on our bodies. When humans hug, cuddle, or touch, however, our brains release the neuropeptide and hormone oxytocin, which has been shown to inhibit cortisol. The more oxytocin we release, the less stressed we are.
Cuddles are an instant mood boost.
Humans are social creatures, which means we love hanging out with each other and being touched. In fact, simple human touch—like hand holding, hugging, and cuddling—releases a cocktail of hormones in our brains including dopamine, serotonin, and the aforementioned oxytocin—all of which make us feel good. Oxytocin has also been shown to decrease depression.
Cuddling can lower blood pressure and your heart rate.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that a 20-second hug and 10 minutes of handholding back-to-back can lower heart rate and blood pressure, especially during stressful situations. And another study published in Biological Psychology found that women who received more frequent hugs from their partners had lower blood pressure and higher oxytocin levels than women who did not.
Cuddles may someday repair our broken bodies.
Last year, researchers found that the amazing cuddle hormone oxytocin also helped regenerate muscle tissue in mice. The study worked like this: Scientists injected oxytocin into older mice with muscle damage and found that, after nine days, the mice saw major improvements. In fact, as if turning back the clock, the older mice’s bodies were able to repair tissue up to 80 percent as well as younger mice could. Researchers think the same effect is possible in humans.
Cuddles can reduce fear and anxiety.
Not only does cuddling with someone make us feel safer during a scary movie, it can also make us feel safer about life in general. Over the course of several studies, researchers found that human touch had the ability to quell existential fears—the big fears we carry around about life and death—especially in people with low self-esteem. In one study, participants felt less anxious about death after a simple touch on the shoulder compared to participants who weren’t touched.