Adults Who Sleep With Teddy Bears
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I sleep with a bear-duck; a dead-eyed teddy bear dressed in a kitschy duck suit. I found it on sale at Aldi after Easter one year, in a huge bin of other bear-ducks, plus some bear-rabbits, and even a few bear-flowers. I didn't necessarily need a teddy bear, but I did. I was fresh out of a breakup and I'd gotten rid of my teddy bear because it was a gift from my ex. The bear-duck appealed to me because it wasn't steeped in nostalgia or feeling. It was purely utilitarian, and it were cheap ($3.99). Nearly three years later, I still sleep with the thing.
I sleep with my bear-duck because I need something to hold. My cat is too warm and too mobile. My pillows are too big. My bear-duck is the perfect size to mash between my elbows and collarbone. More importantly, it helps me sleep. I'll be thirty next year, and I have a pretty good grasp on the basics of adulthood. I pay rent and get my oil changed. I pay taxes and get my pap smears and sleep 7-8 hours each night. I can cook eggs, I've been through years of therapy, and I'm fairly okay at maintaining my friendships. So sometimes, I feel a bit weird that I still hug a fluffy stuffed animal every night. Is it too weird, I wondered? I'm here to tell you that, according to two of my past therapists and a host of internet psychologists, no. It isn't weird. And it isn't even unhealthy unless your stuffed animal gets in the way of your personal relationships or ability to work, though I'm not sure how either of those scenarios is possible.
The origin of the teddy bear is deeply American. Let's go back in time to 1902. Clifford Berryman, a political cartoonist, read an article about how President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, would not shoot a bear because the bear was tied to a tree and our great ex-president found it unsportsmanlike to shoot an already-contained bear. Berryman decided to satirize the situation with a cartoon, which appeared in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902. Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn candy shop owner, saw the cartoon and, with the help of his wife Rose, created a stuffed toy bear and dedicated it to Roosevelt, naming it (aptly), "Teddy's Bear."
That was fun. So, let's say that maybe you're like me-an adult who sleeps with a stuffed animal. And for argument's sake, let's say you'd rather not. Psychologists recommend against quitting "cold turkey," and say that it's better to slowly wean yourself out of your relationship with your teddy. Alternatively, you could find a different thing to squeeze at night, like a pillow, or find a different way to soothe yourself, like with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets use “pressure therapy," to mimic the feeling of being hugged, swaddled, or held. The right size and weight of a weighted blanket depends on your weight and the weight of your unique psychological issues. The general rule of thumb is to pick one that's 10 percent of your bodyweight. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should get a 15-pound blanket, and so on (read more about getting the right weighted blanket for you here.)
Now let's say you're an adult who sleeps with a stuffed animal and you're totally fine doing so. Know that you're far from alone; a 2017 survey commissioned by Build-A-Bear Workshop (they might be biased) surveyed 2,000 adults, 40% of whom sleep with a stuffed animal. Who knew? Stuffed animals are “transitional objects,” meaning they provide stability and comfort for children when their caregivers aren’t there. I don't know about you, but I'm always transitioning. Moving to a new city. Starting a new job. Starting a new relationship. Becoming a parent. Entering middle age. Entering retirement. Life is just a series of transitions, and if a soft, plush toy helps you cope, so be it.
Because the prevalence of adults sleeping with stuffed animals has grown in recent years, Harvard University researchers examined what effect, if any, the toys have on people. They found two things: that stuffed animals remind people of childhood and that the presence of something that reminds people of childhood provides a sort of "moral compass," leading to more pro-social behavior. They actually found a 20% drop in the number of people who cheat on their partners among people who sleep with stuffed animals. Maybe stuffed animals make people kinder and more empathetic. Maybe they help us sleep. Maybe they're vestiges of comfort, and maybe, they're just kind of nice to have around. They're a lot less weird, and a lot more common, than you might think.