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‘My bears are my lifeline’: the adults who sleep with soft toys


If you share your bed with a furry friend well into adulthood, don’t be ashamed – sleeping with soft toys is more normal than you might think. “It’s very common,” says Prof Bruce Hood of the University of Bristol, who has researched our attachment to childhood toys. He tells me that about one in three of the people he has questioned still sleep with teddies, and that it is probably more common for women, as it is more socially acceptable for them to do so.

Why are we hanging on to our cuddly toys? “My hunch is that it’s to do with sleeping practices,” Hood says. In western cultures, we tend to separate children from their parents after the first year – after which they sleep on their own, and self-soothe using blankets and soft toys. “These become part of the sleep ritual.”

It is not unusual for your attachment to soft toys as a sleep aid to persist into adulthood. A survey carried out last year found that 44% of adults have held on to their childhood teddies and dolls, and as many as 34% of adults still sleep with a soft toy every night. Meanwhile, researchers at VU University Amsterdam found that cuddling a soft toy can have a beneficial effect for people with low self-esteem, helping to alleviate their anxieties around death.

“It’s about having a sentimental attachment to things,” Hood says. “It’s completely normal for adults to continue to have these childish attachments.”

He doesn’t see any harm in sleeping with a teddy, provided you’re not obsessive about it. “They provide emotional comfort.” Plus, it is more hygienic than sleeping with a pet. Just don’t forget to bung your teddy in the wash from time to time.

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We spoke to three Guardian readers about their furry friends.

Jeff Annells, 68
Receptionist from Banbury

‘I’ve probably spent about £20,000 over my lifetime’ … Jeff Annells with members of his 60-strong teddy bear collection.



‘I’ve probably spent about £20,000 over my lifetime’ … Jeff Annells with members of his 60-strong teddy bear collection. Photograph: Ben Gurr

It all started when my uncle won me a big old bear called Brumas, when I was about five. He was named after the famous polar bear who was born into captivity at London zoo. I used to cart Brumas everywhere with me – until one day his head fell off. That sounds very traumatic, but it wasn’t that bad.

When I grew up, I started collecting teddy bears. I have about 60 Steiff and Charlie Bears. I pass out thinking about how much money I’ve spent on them – probably £20,000 over my lifetime.

My favourite bear is a 6ft-tall Charlie bear that I call Big Fella. He’s one of only 100 made worldwide. He cost me about £3,000. Everyone who comes to my house gets a photo with Big Fella. He stands in my corridor. When I was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in 2014, Big Fella came into his own. Having cancer is like living in a parallel universe. Everyone is going about their business and you have this thing hanging over you. You never get a break from cancer.

I’m often in a lot of pain. No matter how bad the pain is, I always say good morning to Big Fella when I wake up. My bears are my lifeline. I can say anything to them. I wake up and say: “Christ, I’m in agony this morning.” No one else needs to know that. I say it to Big Fella, and then I get myself ready and go to work and sit on reception smiling at everyone. They’re none the wiser.

I worry a lot about who will inherit Big Fella if I pop my clogs. I keep threatening people with it, saying: “I’ve left you Big Fella in my will.” A look of horror appears on their faces. Seriously, though, I would love for Big Fella to go a children’s hospice. I like the idea of the children being able to confide in him, like I have.

Emily Dove, 26
Personal assistant from Leeds

‘I went away and forgot Ted, so I had to cuddle a pillow instead. It wasn’t the same ...’ Emily Dove with Ted.



‘I went away and forgot Ted, so I had to cuddle a pillow instead. It wasn’t the same …’ Emily Dove with Ted. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

I got Ted as a present for my 18th birthday from my auntie. He’s a brown teddy bear, about 12 inches tall. I have other soft toys that sit on top of my wardrobe. But Ted is the one who hangs out in my bed and comes with me when I go on holiday.

Ted and I have been to Glastonbury together six times. He normally stays in my sleeping bag. It’s nice to be able to get back to the tent late at night and have a cuddle, especially when it’s quite cold. Last year, going into Glastonbury, Ted got properly searched – I think security thought he was a drug mule! They gave him a good squeeze. Luckily, he didn’t get picked apart or anything like that.

A big part of my love for Ted is that I find it very comforting to cuddle him when I’m going to sleep. He’s been a big part of my bedtime routine for the past nine years. I just like having something to cuddle. I need to have something soft to hold by my body. Recently, I went to London for a few days, and I forgot Ted, so I had to cuddle a pillow instead. It wasn’t the same.

I haven’t had any bad feedback from partners. If they did say anything, I’d say that it’s Ted’s bed as well! I think everyone should have a soft toy of their own. It’s a constant, comforting presence in your life. And if you have a relationship and it ends, at least you still have a teddy to cuddle.

Chris Kirton, 33
Call-centre worker from Sunderland

‘There’s is so much pressure on us all to be adults ...’ Chris Kirton’s furry pal, Squishy.



‘There’s is so much pressure on us all to be adults …’ Chris Kirton’s furry pal, Squishy.

My girlfriend, Becky, got me into soft toys. She’s a huge soft toy fan – I’m always buying her birthday or Christmas presents from Build-a-Bear Workshop. I spend a fortune in there! When she moves in with me next year I think my spare bedroom will become a bear sanctuary.

There is so much pressure on us all to be adults, and it’s not always the nicest world to live in. It’s nice to forget about your worries for a little while and be a child again.

I bought Squishy for myself from Morrisons last year. He is your classic teddy bear. I bought him as a bit of a joke, initially.

When I’m at home on my own, I’ll talk out loud to Squishy. Just general stuff, like: “What am I going to do today, then?” It’s just a bit of fun. If I’m watching TV or texting people, I’ll have Squishy under one arm.

I enjoy the absurdity of talking to my teddy bear. My job is often very stressful – I’m always having to apologise when I’ve done nothing wrong, and deal with angry, rude customers. After a tough day at work, I can get home and be daft for a few minutes. It takes my mind off things.

Becky and I had been thinking about getting a pet, but I didn’t want to leave an animal unattended at home. Having soft toys gives you some of the comfort of an animal, without the responsibilities associated with it.

Additional reporting by Rachel Obordo



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