The reason hugs are so nice is because of our sense of touch. This is an extremely important feeling that allows us not only to physically explore the world around us, but also to communicate with others by creating and maintaining social connections.
Touch consists of two different systems. The first is “quick touch” – a system of nerves that allows us to quickly detect contact (for example, if a fly lands on your nose or touches something hot). The second system is “slow touch”. This is a population of recently discovered nerves called c-tactile afferents that process the emotional meaning of touch.
Touch is the first sensation that begins to function in the mother’s womb (around the 14th week). From the moment we are born, the tender mother’s caress caresses us with many health benefits, such as lowering the heart rate and promoting the growth of connections between brain cells.
When someone hugs us, the stimulation of c-tactile afferents in the skin sends signals through the spinal cord to the networks for processing emotions in the brain. This causes a whole waterfall of neurochemical signals that have proven health benefits.
1. Improve sleep.
Gentle touch is known to regulate our sleep as it lowers the levels of the hormone cortisol. That is why many people choose to sleep next to their partner or with their baby.
Cortisol is a key regulator of the sleep-wake cycle and when we are stressed, its amounts increase. Not surprisingly, high levels of stress can cause insomnia.
2. Reduces stress
In addition to the pleasant sensations that the hug brings immediately, touch also has longer-term benefits for our health, making us less reactive to stress. Careful touch in the early stages of development leads to higher levels of oxytocin receptors and lower levels of cortisol in areas of the brain that are vital for regulating emotions. Babies who are cuddled frequently grow up less responsive to stressors and show lower levels of anxiety.
3. It is part of our well-being.
Throughout our lives, social touch unites us and helps maintain our relationships. When touch is desired, the benefits are shared by both participants.
Even petting a pet can make you feel much better. Oxytocin levels increase for both you and your pet.
4. It is easier to fight infections.
Studies show that cuddling in bed can protect us from colds. After observing the frequency of hugs among 400 adults, who were then exposed to the common cold virus, the researchers found that the “hugs” gained easily because they were less likely to catch a cold. And even if they got sick, the symptoms were less pronounced.