Touch has long been defined as a basic human need. After a tough day, nothing feels quite as good as a nice cuddle, be it with a partner, friend or four-legged pal. We all know that cuddling feels amazing, but do we know why?

Our skin is our largest and arguably most vulnerable organ. It’s incredibly sensitive, and it’s how our body relays a bevvy of information to our interior system—from pain to pleasure and everything in between. When we’re babies, touch is our first developed sense and skin-to-skin contact, also known as cuddling, is our first natural way of forming a bond. Therefore, we’re hardwired from birth to use cuddling to connect to the people close to us, and doing so does three major things within our bods:

1. It releases oxytocin. Cuddling releases that feel-good hormone oxytocin, which has a wide variety of positive effects, from decreasing pain to increasing generosity.

2. It releases dopamine. The release of the pleasure hormone dopamine—also created during sex or when we eat something extra delicious—is amped up during cuddling, which makes us feel love-drunk and happy.

3. It decreases cortisol. The stress hormone cortisol is slashed during a hardcore snuggle sesh. Buh-bye, anxiety!

Alright, so we’ve dug into the science of cuddling. Let’s take a look at what it does for us daily—other than feel so darn good.

It fortifies bonds
Similar to kissing and sex, cuddling’s instant release of oxytocin not only elevates your mood, but makes you feel more connected to whoever you’re snuggling up with, be it your babe or your brand new baby.

It reduces stress
The next time you’re feeling strained, grab a snuggle buddy and take a 10 minute cuddle break. Since snuggling both reduces cortisol and releases oxytocin, it packs a one-two punch of stress release, and not just in the short term. Those with higher stores of oxytocin (read: they’re snugging on the reg) have been shown to deal with stressful situations better than those who are a bit snuggle-starved.

It fights disease
Oxytocin does way more than just help you feel close to your partner—it can also help fight disease! The release of the chemical boosts the hormones that fight off infection, so getting cozy under the covers can also keep colds at bay—bonus!

It’s healthy for your heart.
Hugging it out has been shown to lower both your heart rate and your blood pressure. Lowering stress levels also decreases your chance of heart disease, so snuggle up.

It helps you sleep
Cuddle-induced oxytocin release helps relax you, acting as a natural sleep aid. Add a cuddle session before bed to snag a better night’s sleep.

Cuddling shouldn’t be saved for your partner only. Family, friends and pets also make good snuggle buds, and surprisingly enough, so do strangers. There’s even a cafe in Japan where patrons will pay for a snuggle. Not feeling cuddly? A massage offers the same benefits of a cuddle session, so head to the spa for that skin-on-skin boost.

Source: by Zoe Eisenberg