Couples who sleep in the same bed may live longer and be in better health than individuals who sleep by themselves. In fact, some scientists believe that despite the interruptions that come from sharing a bed with another person, sleeping with a partner may be a major factor in explaining why people in close relationships tend to be in better health and live longer.
“The psychological benefits we get having closeness at night trump the objective costs of sleeping with a partner,” says Dr. Wendy M. Troxel, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
In a 2009 study, Toxel and her team found that women in long-term, stable relationships fell asleep quicker and woke up less throughout the night than single women or women who lost or gained a partner during the decade-long duration of the study.
“Women enjoy male presence psychologically even though it costs them minutes or even hours of sleep,” says John Dittami, a behavioral endocrinologist and biological rhythms specialist at the University of Vienna.
One explanation suggests that by promoting the feelings of safety and security, sharing a bed may lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Sleeping together may also reduce levels of cytokines in the body, which are involved in inflammation and pain. Another hypothesis explains that physical closeness boosts oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone” that is known to ease anxiety—that is produced in the same part of the brain responsible for the sleep-wake cycle.
Doesn’t that make cuddling sound like a miracle drug—a two-in-one stress and pain reliever? On top of that, when you’re doing well mentally (think: not stressed, not in pain), you decrease your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and other serious chronic illnesses.
Looking for one more reason to cuddle up? Experts say that sleeping with another person can even help maintain your body temperature throughout the night, meaning a better rest for both you and your partner. As you fall asleep, your body temperature begins to drop. That’s fine on most nights, but if your surrounding conditions get too cold, the freezing temperatures might disrupt your sleep. When your body feels too cold, the warmth of the person sleeping next to you might help your body get back to its preferred temperature.
“The decision to sleep separately can make it more difficult to resolve any issues between you, as well as cause damage to the foundation of the relationship,” says Barton Goldsmith Ph.D., psychotherapist and international keynote speaker. So if you’re looking to strengthen your relationship and reap the health benefits of sharing a bed, tell your partner you have some snuggling to do tonight.