A narrative review of research linking non-sexual social touch to sleep quality

Author: Yuxi Xie1, Brooke C Feeney1
1 Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Conference/Journal: J Sleep Res
Date published: 2024 Feb 21
Other: Pages: e14174 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/jsr.14174. , Word Count: 249

This narrative review describes the current state of the literature that has examined associations between non-sexual social touch (i.e., affectionate touch, touch therapies, touch with animals and inanimate objects that mimic social touch) and sleep quality. It also highlights areas for future research to clarify the links and to identify underlying mechanisms. Most existing studies have focussed on and shown positive effects of touch therapies (e.g., massage, therapeutic touch) on sleep quality in clinical populations. Although there are fewer studies examining how other forms of social touch are linked with sleep quality, the existing research provides preliminary evidence supporting affectionate touch (e.g., hugging, skin-to-skin contact) and tactile contact with animals (e.g., dogs) and objects that mimic social touch (e.g., robots, weighted blankets) as predictors of better sleep quality, while touch deprivation and touch aversion are associated with worse sleep quality. Informed by the existing literature, we additionally reviewed potential relational-cognitive (e.g., felt-security) and neurobiological (e.g., oxytocin) mechanisms likely to underlie associations between social touch and sleep quality. Overall, current research supports associations between non-sexual social touch and sleep quality. However, future research is needed to establish these links for specific forms of social touch (and in various populations), to test explanatory mechanisms, and to identify boundary conditions. Understanding associations between non-sexual social touch and sleep quality can inform the development of touch-based interventions to improve sleep quality and health.

Keywords: affectionate touch; mechanisms; sleep quality; social touch; touch therapy.

PMID: 38382911 DOI: 10.1111/jsr.14174