When we sleep, we are most honest as we aren’t consciously deciding to hide our actions.
Therefore, we choose the sleeping position we feel most comfortable with mentally and physically. For most people, pillow hugging allows them to get cozy and feel like they’re being cuddled.
A pillow-hugging habit may stem from childhood when a child prefers to sleep in the fetal position while holding onto a blanket or stuffed animal.
Hugging a soft object makes them feel more secure and enables them to cope with fear and anxiety. This remains constant during adulthood, but we hug a pillow instead.
People who hug pillows and sleep or sleep surrounded by pillows often cherish their relationships with the important individuals in their lives, whether they’re friends, family, or personal relationships.
Some pillow huggers are people-pleasers or may choose to help others over themselves.
Why Do People Hug a Pillow While Sleeping
Many factors, ranging from behavioral and cognitive to physical causes, can play a role in determining why adults hug pillows while they sleep. While some do it for emotional and physical comfort and security, others do so to cope with a physical condition or pregnancy during sleep.
Don’t Want to Be Alone
Some people can’t sleep without hugging a pillow because it helps them deal with stress, anxiety, or fear.
A pillow offers them the emotional and physical comfort of not being alone. However, pillow hugging isn’t as simple as it may appear, as it’s something that roots from infancy.
Parents swaddle their infants in warm, comfortable blankets, which provide the child with a sense of security. An infant’s nerves are still in their development phases.
When swaddled, a child is prevented from jumping in their sleep and jolting themselves awake. As they become toddlers, children no longer require swaddling. However, they’ve already learned about fear by this stage.
A toddler is often given a soft toy or blanket to hold onto during the night to prevent a child’s fears from scaring them awake. Children face numerous situations in school, at home, and among their friends that can cause them to worry or be afraid of something.
A couple of examples of such situations are bullying or trouble at home between their parents. Therefore, as they age, they learn to rely on soft inanimate objects to help them sleep.
As children transition to becoming teenagers, they opt for more mature ways of coping with fear and anxiety. Most of them put their stuffed toy away, replacing them with something more adult.
This could be a pillow or a comforter. As they grow older, pillow hugging remains a constant in their lives, helping them deal with stress and worry.
Hugging a pillow to get some emotional comfort during sleep isn’t a bad thing, as it doesn’t cause physical harm. This is unlike alcohol or drugs, which are also used to cope with emotions.
Reduces Your Snoring or Apneic Episodes
If you have a snoring problem or sleep apnea, your pillow-hugging habit is for a physical benefit rather than an emotional benefit. Snoring often interferes with sleep, causing snorers and their partners to experience restless sleep, sleeplessness, grogginess, and problems concentrating during the day.
Snoring due to sleep apnea can also increase your risk of hypertension, heart disease, mood-related problems, and cognitive issues, such as difficulty remembering.
Side sleeping is one of the most effective ways of reducing snoring or apneic episodes. Hugging a body pillow or a regular pillow can support your entire body and enable you to continue sleeping on your side.
When you sleep on your back, the base of your tongue and soft palate collapse to the back of your throat, resulting in a vibrating sound (snoring) while you sleep.
In a study by Oksenberg et al., nearly 54% of snorers were positional snorers. In other words, they only snored while lying on their backs.
Chronic snoring is a strong indicator of sleep apnea, a condition where your breathing is obstructed while you sleep due to relaxed throat muscles. 75% of people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea.
During pregnancy, your normal sleeping positions no longer work.
Sleeping on your back can cause breathing and digestive system issues, backaches, low blood pressure, hemorrhoids, and decreased circulation to your heart and baby. This results from your abdomen resting on your major blood vessels and intestines.
Pregnant women are advised to sleep on their sides, and hugging a body pillow can help them maintain this position in their sleep. Pillow hugging also makes you feel warmer and more comfortable during your slumber.
If you can’t sleep without a body pillow, it could be because it has become a habit you developed during pregnancy.
Value Strong Personal Bonds
For most individuals, sleeping can be their most vulnerable and honest state. People who cannot sleep without hugging a pillow tend to strongly value their relationships with the people who are most important to them.
Hugging a pillow allows them to reconstruct this sensation even during their slumber.
You like doing things in a typical way, including grabbing a pillow each night and hugging it during sleep.
If this sounds like you, your pillow is probably an environmental cue that reminds your brain that it’s time to unwind, relax, and get to bed. Pillows make you feel comfortable, both physically and mentally.
People with anxiety have difficulty staying present and acknowledging the essence of their environment. If you’re an anxiety sufferer, hugging a pillow may help you relax and fall asleep faster.
Most people need one pillow to get a restful night’s sleep. However, some may choose to keep several pillows around them, tucking one between their legs and another between their arms.
If you find yourself sleeping surrounded by pillows, it could be because you’re insecure. You have a deep, subconscious fear that something might happen if you’re not protected during sleep.
Why Is It Beneficial to Hug a Pillow During Sleep?
Many people have trouble falling asleep because they don’t know how to self-soothe. They cannot let go of their worries and fears of the day, and at night, these feelings only get more intense for them.
If you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep due to stress or anxiety, an inability to soothe yourself may keep you from a good night’s sleep.
When you hug someone, your body releases chemicals that help increase your bond with that person. An individual can recreate the same sensations while hugging a pillow during sleep.
One of these chemicals is the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is released by your brain’s hypothalamus.
What Are the Benefits of Oxytocin?
Also called the love hormone, oxytocin has numerous psychological and physical effects, influencing one’s emotions and social behavior.
Reduces Social Fear
Oxytocin increases self-esteem, helps build trust, and stimulates feelings of optimism. It breaks down social barriers by assisting people to overcome their inhibitions and fears when placed in a social setting.
According to the University of Toronto, oxytocin can reduce social anxieties, mood disorders, and shyness.
Stimulating the release of oxytocin by hugging a pillow can calm your mind, allowing you to sleep more soundly. Furthermore, given oxytocin’s ability to relieve social anxiety and build feelings of trust, it also can reduce your stress.
Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels in the body and helps lower blood pressure. It also improves digestion, which is typically interfered with during periods of high stress.
Interestingly, oxytocin and its receptors are found in our intestinal tracts, indicating that it may play a role in alleviating intestinal inflammation and improving gut mobility.
Oxytocin also helps people dealing with depression and anxiety disorders. Its effects were first discovered by new mothers with postpartum syndrome.
Scientists have found that some new mothers experience depression following their pregnancy due to low oxytocin levels in their bodies. The risk for postpartum depression in pregnant women can be predicted by oxytocin levels in the expecting mother’s body.
Oxytocin’s ability to generate trust in people can resolve wounds from damaged relationships. Furthermore, oxytocin is thought to also help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Oxytocin has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can be used in healing wounds. Studies show that higher oxytocin levels can relieve several types of body pains, including cramps, headaches, back pain, and overall body pains.
While synthetic oxytocin can help with pain relief, cuddling your partner or hugging your pillow during sleep can help relieve any physical discomfort you may have.
Assists People in the Spectrum
Oxytocin can help people with autistic spectrum disorder by improving their social communication.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) investigated oxytocin’s behavioral effects in 13 autistic participants. Researchers simulated a ball game where subjects had to interact with made-up partners.
Results showed that after oxytocin inhalation, participants showed stronger interactions with their partners and heightened feelings of trust.
Also, when participants were given pictures to view, oxytocin increased their gazing time towards the most socially information-rich part of the face – the eyes.
Children and Self-Soothing
Sleeping can be the most challenging part of the day for babies and young children. They must let go of their parent or carer who has been soothing them constantly, often by holding them close to their bodies.
Humans are quick to adapt, especially when they’re children. They learn to use soft objects from their environment to remind them of the sensation of being comforted by their carer.
To help a child become more independent and avoid the natural anxiety that comes with being separated from their carer during bedtime, a parent may introduce a transitional object.
Over time, the child associates the object with its caretaker. When left alone, children may use such objects to remind themselves that their parent is still with them, offering them comfort, closeness, and protection.
Touching, holding, or hugging such objects can also help mature adults who can’t get past their worries and have trouble falling asleep.