Bring a bear to bed? The importance of emotional comfort for a great night’s sleep

hug a bear day

This Hug a Bear Day, we’re exploring the potential benefits of cuddly toys and other bedtime comforts

Every child has a favourite cuddly toy, and choosing a furry friend to snuggle up next to is a natural part of many children’s night-time routine. But is there something more to this long-standing tradition than childish whimsy? Could it be that, in fact, welcoming a teddy bear into our beds is a habit we should try to carry through into adulthood?

In honour of Hug a Bear Day, we’re taking a closer look at just how beneficial a teddy bear can be when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, leading us to explore the wider link between emotional comfort and feeling well-rested.

Should you indulge your inner child this Hug a Bear Day?

Children sleeping with stuffed toys is hugely common both in the UK and across the pond, with 60-70% of children taking a cuddly friend to bed. This number peaks at around 3 years of age, but research actually shows that a significant number of children continue their habit well into adulthood. In fact, one survey of 6,000 British adults by Travelodge found that a third of respondents still took a teddy to bed as a “comforting and calming way to end the day.” What’s more, another survey found that Millennials were twice as likely to sleep with a stuffed animal as the generation before them.

It’s easy to write this off as an innocent quirk which some people retain, but there could be more to nightly teddy time than meets the eye. One study by researchers at UV University Amsterdam found that touch can have significant health benefits, even the touch of a stuffed animal, while another study by Psychology Today found that soft toys can act like “transitional objects” which can “soothe and comfort” older children.

For adults, sleeping with a teddy can have a similar effect. Licensed Professional Counsellor and Registered Art Therapist Robert Ryan states that there are thousands of possible reasons why an adult may choose to sleep with a stuffed animal:

“It’s a sign of need. If you’re alone and you have a big stuffed animal, there’s somebody in bed with you. Sometimes it’s very comforting to cuddle a pillow, and it might not be anything more than that.”

That is, unless you’re substituting actual human contact with a teddy bear, Ryan warns: “Is it keeping you from bringing someone home because you really don’t want someone to know this? Then it’s interfering, and it’s time to give him up.”

Why do we need emotional comfort at bedtime?

Teddy bears are just one example of how people seek out emotional comfort and calmness when going to sleep. Other examples include ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – a reasonably recent phenomenon during which people listen to calming sounds and monologues to create a physical tingling response in an effort to relax. Last year alone, YouTube saw a 250% rise in the number of AMSR videos posted to its site.

There are also more classic examples of our efforts to unwind at the end of the day. Meditation, reading and surrounding ourselves with relaxing scents like lavender are all versions of this same effort to shift our emotions into a more tranquil and vulnerable state before bed.

The importance of this is evident when we look at the effect of the opposite mindset. Stress and sleep – as shown in endless research – do not mix well. When we are stressed, our anxious feelings can have a detrimental impact on our ability to fall asleep, even leading to sleep disorders like insomnia. What’s worse, prolonged levels of stress and sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of many leading health concerns, including heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and more.

So this Hug a Bear Day, consider what you could do to bring a little more relaxation into your bedroom.

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