Whether you’re the one giving or receiving, a hug with someone you love feels great.
But here’s the kicker:
Hugging is more than touchy-feely stuff. It has psychological, physiological, and neurological benefits.
Science corroborates what we already know, which is that hugging your kids (and your spouse) tight every day is legitimately good for you! Benefits run the gamut from mood improvement to tangible impacts on your body and brain.
Let’s dive in and learn more about the surprisingly positive impact of frequent embracing.
Examining the Evidence
Right, it’s time to dig into the scientific literature to see what the studies have to say about hugging…
What Neuroscientists Say...
1) Helps kids get sleepy at bedtime
Tucking the kids in at night often comes with a fervent wish that they’ll stay put and fall asleep soundly, but as it turns out, adding a few goodnight hugs to your bedtime routine might help the little ones calm down and get sleepy.
One study on affectionate touch as a soothing behavior identified the release of oxytocin as a result of hugging. This means that when you hug your child, the “love” hormone — also associated with calming and relaxation — is released. This may help to prepare them for their slumber.
2) Offers a serotonin boost to couples
Whether it’s issues at work, a car in the shop, or forgetting to drag the bins to the curb, parents face more than their fair share of stress and annoyance. It always feels good to reconnect with your partner with an embrace, and as science has proven, it’s not just because you love them.
A study focusing specifically on the biological effects of hugs between romantic partners discovered that when you snuggle up with your number one honey, you’re both privy to a release of serotonin. Healthy serotonin levels help to prevent depression and other mental illnesses, so this is a good way to bolster brain health.
3) Promotes brain development in infants
When you bring your new bundle of joy home from the hospital, nailing down their eating and sleeping routine is top priority. After that, many parents start considering what they can do to help foster the best development possible for their newborn.
While mobiles and toys intended to catch attention and encourage cognitive and motor development begin to become effective after a few months, parents can begin to promote baby’s brain development early through gentle cuddles and hugs. A study of infant brain function determined that touches of this type encourage the healthy growth of baby’s brain.
What Psychologists Say...
4) Provides emotional comfort
There’s a reason friends and loved ones offer a hug when we’re feeling low; it’s an instant pick-me-up that lets us know we’re loved and cared for. Hugging our kids when they’re sad is a natural impulse, and it’s one with biological benefits to back up the related good feelings.
Scientific study has proven that a flood of hormones tied to happiness — specifically, oxytocin and serotonin — are released when we give and receive hugs. This means that snuggling up your little one when they’re feeling down is pulling double duty by positively impacting their brain chemistry.
5) Eases depression and anxiety
Though we do our best to preserve and protect the mental health of our children, they, too, can be vulnerable to depression and anxiety. These issues may be short or long term, and can be associated with academic difficulty, bullying, personal changes, or social issues. Recognizing signs that something is amiss — changes to habits, behavior, mood, and school performance are often among the first — should be an impetus for parents to get involved in what’s troubling a child.
Professional help can often be of great assistance in this matter, whether it’s a school psychologist or a referral from your child’s pediatrician. Though it can be tough to know the best way to help, gentle physical affection in the form of a hug has the power to offer a bit of temporary reprieve. This is because of the oxytocin and serotonin that hugging releases, both of which help to create feelings of calm and positivity.
6) Assists in overcoming feelings of rejection
Fitting in can be hard at any age, but when kids are struggling to gain the attention of critical peers, the fallout of failed attempts can be pure devastation. When kids feel rejected socially, they may feel anxious, depressed, and angry, sometimes beginning to withdraw even from those who love and care for them.
Though consolation and regained confidence often require time and future social successes, hugging your child tight to remind them that they’re loved may ease their ability to get over this pain. The presence of additional oxytocin created by hugging can release positive feelings which help people to overcome rejection.
7) Reduces feelings of powerlessness
Feelings of powerlessness are never pleasant, but for kids, they’re very much a part of life at times. They’re rarely in charge of making their own big decisions, and realizing that the world doesn’t prioritize what’s fair to them in the same way parents do is a painful realization for some children.
Though these feelings can be tough to cope with, receiving physical affection on a regular basis can help ease the pain of feeling powerless. Twenty adolescents who participated in a series of hug therapy sessions reported that their feelings of powerlessness were diminished by their participation in the program.
What Doctors Say...
8) Increases their (and your) microbiome
Though we’ve spent a great deal of our time and energy trying to avoid other people’s germs, science will be quick to remind us that the “microbiome” we create through interaction with others is part of what safeguards us from illness and helps regulate our digestion.
This includes, as you might imagine, a hug shared between parent and child. An embrace benefits you both through the exchange of good and neutral microorganisms — could a few good squeezes finally score them that coveted perfect attendance record?
9) Lowers blood pressure for couples
Though blood pressure is very rarely a concern for children, it’s one of the first vital signs doctors look to when assessing adult wellness. High blood pressure can be caused by medical and lifestyle factors, including stress. It’s linked to heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical conditions, so making positive changes to bring your numbers down to a healthy range is always wise.
Cuddling up to your partner more often is one wonderful way to work toward that coveted 120/80. When romantic partners hug and oxytocin, the “love” hormone, is released, blood pressure is naturally lowered.
10) Minimizes inflammation when done daily
When we think of inflammation, it’s often in terms of a muscle or joint that’s been strained by overuse. Another, more chronic type of inflammation can also cause unpleasant symptoms; it’s an immune response to cellular damage in which the brain releases a flood of chemicals that are intended to alleviate the issue, but the released chemicals linger and leave the body in an unnatural state of alert.
Proinflammatory cytokines are chemicals released by the brain in response to chronic inflammation. In addition to diet and medication, per one 2020 study, levels of two of these chemicals can be lowered through hugging. Treating chronic inflammation may reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
11) Diminishes risk of TNF-α linked disorders
Safeguarding our children’s health is something that’s top of mind for parents; we prioritize vaccine schedules, make sure they have a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, and keep up with well visits as prescribed. Of course, if there’s something easy that can be done to give their wellness an extra boost, it’s a welcome addition to the routine.
A good old-fashioned hug has the power to reduce disease, per one 2020 study. Participating in hugs daily is linked to a reduction in inflammatory chemicals in the bloodstream, including TNF-α(tumor necrosis factor alpha). TNF-α causes inflammation and is linked to serious autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
12) Speeds healing for babies in NICU
When babies are born early, special interventions are often needed to help them survive and thrive in the same way that a full term newborn would. This can mean spending some time in the NICU, where they can receive that specialized care from qualified experts.
Though babies in the NICU often can’t be held with the same frequency and duration as a full-term newborn, the hugs and cuddles they do receive are beneficial. Evidence has shown that when NICU infants are held, hugged, and cuddled, they may be able to heal a bit faster.
13) May reduce perceived severity of illness symptoms
When your little one has is sick, even if you know it’s just a head cold, their assessment of their symptom levels may lean toward the dramatic. When their runny nose and cough are “the worst thing ever”, cuddling up with mom or dad might help things feel a little less bad.