psychology behind hugging a pillow and sleeping
Relationships

Why Can’t I Sleep without Hugging a Pillow?

Last Updated on September 30, 2023 by Louise Carter

We’re most honest when we sleep because we aren’t consciously hiding 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 stuffed animal or a soft and warm blanket.

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 during sleep or sleep surrounded by pillows often cherish their relationships with important individuals, whether friends or family.

Some pillow huggers are people-pleasers or help others in preference to themselves.

Why Do People Hug a Pillow While Sleeping

Many factors, ranging from behavioral and cognitive to physical causes, 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 discomfort 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 provides the emotional and physical comfort of not being alone. However, pillow hugging isn’t as simple as it may appear because it occurs during 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. By this stage, they’ve learned about fear.

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 grow afraid of something.

Examples of such situations are bullying or trouble at home between their parents. Therefore, they learn to rely on soft, inanimate objects to help them sleep as they age.

As children become teenagers, they opt for other 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, helping them deal with stress and worry.

Hugging a pillow for emotional comfort during sleep isn’t bad, as it doesn’t cause physical harm. This is unlike alcohol or drugs, which are also used to cope with emotions.

I can only sleep hugging a pillow

Reduces Your Snoring or Apneic Episodes

If you have a snoring problem or sleep apnea, a pillow-hugging habit is for a physical 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 the risk of hypertension, heart disease, mood-related problems, and cognitive issues, like difficulty remembering things.

Side sleeping is among the most effective ways to reduce snoring or apneic episodes. Hugging a body pillow or a regular pillow can support the 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 the 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.

Pregnant

During pregnancy, normal sleeping positions no longer work.

Sleeping on the back can cause breathing and digestive system issues, backaches, low blood pressure, hemorrhoids, and decreased circulation to the 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. Pillow hugging also makes you feel warmer and more comfortable during sleep.

If you can’t sleep without a body pillow, it could have become a habit during pregnancy.

Value Strong Personal Bonds

For most individuals, sleeping can be their most vulnerable and honest state.

People who can’t sleep without hugging a pillow 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 sleep.

Routine-Oriented

You do things a certain way, like grabbing a pillow each night and hugging it during sleep.

If this sounds like you, the pillow is probably an environmental cue that reminds the brain that it’s time to unwind, relax, and get to bed. Pillows make you feel comfortable physically and mentally.

People with anxiety have difficulty staying present and acknowledging the essence of their environment. If you have anxiety, hugging a pillow may enable you to relax and fall asleep faster.

Feeling Insecure

Most people need one pillow to get a restful night’s sleep. However, some may 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 aren’t 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 can’t let go of their worries and fears from the day. At night, these feelings only grow more intense.

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, the 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 released by the hypothalamus.

What Are the Benefits of Oxytocin?

Oxytocin has psychological and physical effects, influencing our 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.

The University of Toronto said oxytocin reduces social anxieties, mood disorders, and shyness.

can't sleep without body pillow

Natural Stress-Reliever

Stimulating the release of oxytocin by hugging a pillow can calm the mind, allowing you to sleep more soundly. Given oxytocin’s ability to relieve social anxiety and build trust, it also can reduce stress.

Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels in the body and helps lower blood pressure. It also improves digestion, which is 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 with depression and anxiety disorders. New mothers first discovered its effects when they had 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 help resolve damaged relationships. Furthermore, oxytocin is thought to assist people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reduces Pain

Oxytocin has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can heal wounds. Higher oxytocin levels can relieve body pains, including cramps, headaches, and back pain.

While synthetic oxytocin can relieve pain, cuddling a partner or hugging a pillow during sleep can relieve physical discomfort.

Assists People in the Spectrum

Oxytocin can assist people with autistic spectrum disorder by improving their social communication.

A study 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, namely 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 children. They learn to use soft objects from their environment to remind them of the sensation of being comforted by their carer.

A parent may introduce a transitional object to help a child become more independent and avoid the natural anxiety of being separated from their carer during bedtime.

Over time, the child associates the object with its carer. When left alone, children may use such objects to remind themselves that their parent is still with them, offering comfort, closeness, and protection.

Touching, holding, or hugging such objects can also assist mature adults who can’t get past their worries and have trouble falling asleep.