What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Touch?

May 9, 2023

Human touch is an essential component of our well-being. We crave connection with others and thrive on physical contact. However, circumstances such as social isolation, distance, or disability can limit our ability to experience this vital form of human interaction. So, how long can someone go without human touch, and what are the potential consequences of prolonged touch deprivation?

The answer to the question of how long someone can go without human touch is complex. People have different needs and tolerances for physical contact, and factors such as age, gender, culture, and individual experiences can influence these needs. However, studies have shown that humans require touch for physical and emotional well-being, and prolonged touch deprivation can have detrimental effects on our health.

Babies and children, in particular, require touch for healthy growth and development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, skin-to-skin contact between infants and their parents or caregivers helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. It also promotes bonding, reduces stress, and can improve breastfeeding outcomes. Infants who receive less touch and interaction with their caregivers may be at risk for developmental delays, emotional problems, and impaired immune function.

Similarly, older adults and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses may also experience negative consequences of touch deprivation. Research has shown that touch can reduce pain, anxiety, and depression and improve these populations’ sleep and overall quality of life. Lack of touch or physical contact can lead to feelings of loneliness, social isolation, and even physiological changes such as higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In general, adults may be able to tolerate touch deprivation for more extended periods than children, but prolonged periods without touch can still have adverse effects. Studies have linked touch deprivation with increased stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in adults. In some cases, touch deprivation can lead to skin hunger or touch starvation, a condition where a person craves touch so intensely that they become hypersensitive to any physical contact.

Human touch is essential to our well-being, and everyone needs it to varying degrees. Babies and children, in particular, require touch for healthy growth and development, and prolonged touch deprivation can have lasting effects on their health and emotional well-being. Adults may be more tolerant of touch deprivation, but it can still lead to adverse outcomes, such as increased stress and loneliness.

Therefore, it is essential to prioritize touch and physical contact in our daily lives, especially during times of social distancing or isolation.