psychology behind hugging a pillow and sleeping
Sleep Problems

Why Can’t I Sleep without Hugging a Pillow?

We are most honest when we sleep 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.

Why can I only sleep hugging a pillow? A pillow hugging habit may stem from childhood, when a child prefers to sleep in the fetal position while holding onto a blanket or a stuffed animal. Hugging a soft object makes them feel more secure and enables them to cope with fear and anxiety. This factor remains constant even during adulthood – except instead of a stuffed toy, we hug a pillow.

The way you sleep can tell a lot about you. 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 on certain occasions.

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 it to cope with a physical condition or pregnancy during sleep.

1) You 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. In fact, 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 from their parents – however, they’ve already learned about fear by this stage.

To prevent a child’s fears from scaring them awake, a toddler is often given a soft toy or blanket to hold onto in the night. 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 general examples of such situations are bullying, or trouble at home between their parents. Therefore, as they get older, 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 and replace it with something that appears more adult. This could be a pillow or a comforter. As they grow older, pillow hugging remains a constant in their lives, helping them every day to deal with stress and worry.

Hugging a pillow to get some emotional comfort during your sleep isn’t a bad thing as it doesn’t cause any physical harm – unlike alcohol or drugs, which are also used to cope with emotions.

can't sleep without body pillow

2) It Reduces Your Snoring or Apneic Episodes

If you have a snoring problem or sleep apnea, chances are your pillow hugging habit is for a physical benefit, rather than emotional. 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 provide support for 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 conducted Oksenberg et al., nearly 54% of snorers were positional snorers. In other words, they only snored while lying on their backs.

Note that chronic snoring is a strong indicator of sleep apnea – a condition where your breathing is obstructed while you sleep as a result of relaxed throat muscles. 75% of people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea.

3) You Are Pregnant

During pregnancy, your regular 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 is a result of 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 your pregnancy days.

4) You 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.

5) You Are Routine-Oriented

You like doing things in a typical way, which includes grabbing a pillow each night and hugging it during your sleep. If this sounds like you, your pillow is probably an environmental cue that reminds your brain every day that it is 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.

6) You’re Feeling Insecure

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 your 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 aren’t able to 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, the inability to soothe yourself may be keeping you away 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 their sleep.

One of these chemicals is the hormone and neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which is released by the hypothalamus of your brain.

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.

1) It Reduces Social Fear

Oxytocin increases self-esteem, helps build trust and stimulates feelings of optimism. It breaks down social barriers by helping people overcome their inhibitions and fears when placed in a social setting. According to a University of Toronto research, oxytocin can help in reducing social anxieties, mood disorders, and even shyness.

I can only sleep hugging a pillow

2) It’s a Natural Stress-Reliever

Stimulating the release of oxytocin by hugging a pillow can help calm your mind down, 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. What’s interesting is that oxytocin and its receptors are found in our intestinal tracts as well, 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 via new mothers with postpartum syndrome. Scientists have found that some new mothers experience depression following their pregnancy due to low levels of oxytocin in their body. The risk for postpartum depression in pregnant women can be predicted by the levels of oxytocin in the expecting mother’s body.

Due to oxytocin’s ability to generate trust in people, it can help treat wounds from damaged relationships. Furthermore, oxytocin is thought to also help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

3) It Reduces Pain

Oxytocin has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can be used in healing wounds. Studies show that higher oxytocin levels in the body can help relieve several types of body pains as well, 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.

4) It Helps 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 in the study simulated a ball game where subjects had to interact with made-up partners.

Results showed that following oxytocin inhalation, participants showed stronger interactions with their partners, accompanied by 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

For babies and young children, sleeping can be the most challenging part of the day as they have to let go from their parent or caretaker 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 caretaker.

To help a child become more independent and steer away from the natural feelings of anxiety that come with being separated from their caretaker during bedtime, a parent may introduce a transitional object.

Over time, the child associated 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 of the day and have trouble falling asleep because of them.