Is It Unhealthy to Sleep with a Baby Blanket or Stuffed Animal As an Adult?
Yo—40 percent of adults sleep with a baby blanket or stuffed animal. Are there any health benefits to doing so—or worse, consequences? Experts weigh in.
Family myth has it that when I was born, I giggled as the doctor wrapped me in a cotton, pink polka-dot swaddle. More than 25 years later, I'm a grown-ass adult, but that now-tattered baby blanket is still part of my bedtime routine. To date, I have only *not* slept with my baby blanket (blankie, as I aptly named him) for five nights. Ever.
Turns out, I'm not the only one who incorporates a stuffed animal or blanket into my #adulting: A 2017 survey commissioned by stuffed-animal maker Build-A-Bear found that, out of 2,000+ adults, 40 percent (!) still sleep with a teddy bear.
can we please normalize sleeping with a baby blanket / stuffed animal as a teen / adult?? stop making fun of people who DO. like i’m sorry that i need to have my security blanket / stuffed animal in order to sleep. it’s really not that big of a deal.
— ashley pinned (@HAPPIESTDEAD) January 13, 2019
That—and the responses to this^^ tweet—are enough evidence to suggest being a grown-up with a comfort object isn't totally far-out. But I can't help but wonder: Is it actually unhealthy to still sleep with a blankie or stuffed animal after a certain age? Here, the answer.
What Are "Transitional Objects"?
These comfort objects are called "transitional objects" because they "help children make the emotional transition from dependence to independence," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"The idea is that, at first, they smell like the child's primary caregiver, which allows the child to feel safe, close to that nurturer, and fall asleep even if the caregiver isn't physically right there," says Alisa Ruby Bash, Psy.D., L.M.F.T., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Malibu, CA.
The ability to calm yourself down without the help of a parent is an emotionally beneficial skill for children as they age, says board-certified psychologist Helena Rempala, Ph.D., from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And these comfort objects might help do that: One recent review, for example, found that young children who spend full days in daycare were significantly more likely to develop attachments to inanimate objects compared with children who spent only half days in daycare. The researchers suggested that these objects enable children to self-soothe.
So, yeah, "it's totally healthy for children to have a comfort object," says Alex Dimitriu, M.D., double board-certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
Okay. But What About Adults?
It may seem like sleeping with a stuffed animal or baby blanket is embarrassing after childhood, but it's not: "It's completely normal," says Bash. Phew.
"Usually, adults grow past needing those same sources of comfort," she says, "but in times of extreme stress or emotional despair, it is quite normal for an adult to revert to childhood sources of self-soothing and comfort to relieve anxiety and pain." Basically, they serve a similar function for you as an adult as they did for you as a child.
If you're still judging, consider this: All the experts agree it's a lot healthier to seek comfort in a stuffed animal than in something like alcohol, drugs, or sex. (Ahem: Why You Need to Take a Good Look at Your Relationship with Alcohol)
And because adequate sleep is so important, Rempala says that if a blanket or stuffed animal is part of how you create ideal conditions for falling asleep and staying asleep, that's a-okay. "If your childhood blanket or teddy bear is one of the ways you signal to your body that you're safe enough for sleep, why not keep it?" (After all, sleep is the most important thing for your health and fitness goals.)
When It Becomes an Issue
There are a few instances when sleeping with a blanket or stuffed animal stops being healthy.
1. It's actively messing with your relationship. If you're looking to your baby blanket instead of your partner for support, there may be a problem—either with your dependence on the item or with the relationship itself, says New York City–based therapist Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D. (Related: 8 Things That Could Hurt Your Relationship) It means either your partner isn't providing the comfort to you that they should be, or you're actively choosing your childhood comfort object over your partner—which is symptomatic of larger intimacy issues, says Smerling.
2. It's holding you back. Bash also recommends asking yourself: "Does sleeping with this keep me isolated from other human beings? Is it something I actively work to hide?" If you avoid bringing home partners and friends or don't go on certain trips because of Teddy, your object could be limiting your interpersonal relationships and life experiences.
3. You really can't sleep without it. If you actively tell yourself (and believe!) that you can't fall asleep without this safety signal, there's a problem, says Rempala. "If you can't move from the state of alertness to the state of calm necessary for sleep without the object, you've disrupted your self-regulation skills," she says. Basically, being too reliant on the object as an adult is counterproductive to why you attached to the object as a child. "You stop being self-reliant, independent, and autonomous if your relationship with the object becomes too severe," she says.
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How to Break Up with Your Blankie
If you decide you need or want to break up with Teddy, good news: Everyone is capable of sleeping naturally. If it has become unhealthy, overcoming that habit is just a matter of being patient as you re-train yourself, says Dimitriu. He encourages his patients to practice sleeping on their own at least once in a while. "Usually, I'll say two days with the object, one day without, to minimize psychological dependence and encourage internal healthy habits."
Trying to ghost your comfort object probably won't work. After all, you have slept with this tattered thing for most of your life. That's why Bash also recommends working with a professional who can guide you throughout this process. "Overattachment to the object could be a sign of deep loneliness or fear or a desire to stay isolated. A therapist can help you address the why behind the dependence," she says. (Here's how to go to therapy when you're broke AF.)
So, Is It Unhealthy??
Bottom line: Is it unhealthy to sleep with a blankie or stuffed animal as an adult? "If you like sleeping with your childhood stuffed animal and it doesn't interfere with your independence or relationships, I see no reasons to worry about it," says Rempala. If that's the case for you, go ahead and snuggle up. I know I will.