Why as a 45-year-old mom I STILL sleep with my childhood teddy

Drifting off, I cuddle a creature whose presence makes me feel comforted and safe. He’ll be here in the morning, and tomorrow night, too, soothing and calming me without saying a word.

No, not my husband Chris, who has upped sticks to the spare bedroom so he doesn’t have my fidgeting to contend with, nor our labrador Herbie (who isn’t allowed upstairs at all), but my teddy bear, Sam.

I might be 45, a mother of two with a full-time job and a never-ending pile of laundry, but despite – or because of – my adult responsibilities, I still sleep with the stuffed animal I have loved since I was a baby.

Antonia Hoyle with her childhood teddy, Sam, whom she still sleeps with at night

Antonia Hoyle with her childhood teddy, Sam, whom she still sleeps with at night

That he has lost his fur and smile, that his nose is skewered and his lurid orange (and probably highly flammable) 1970s stuffing pokes through his threadbare tummy only adds to his appeal.

Which might make me sound unhinged, but I’m far from alone. One study found 34 per cent of British adults sleep with a soft toy every night (even if they’re not daft enough to openly admit it).

The 75-year-old King still travels with a childhood teddy bear according to his biographer Christopher Andersen, while actress Margot Robbie said in 2021: ‘Please no one psychoanalyse the fact that I’m 30, and I sleep with a bunny rabbit every night. Also, I know what you’re all thinking. That doesn’t look like a bunny rabbit at all! But she’s 30 years old, and she’s looking a little worse for wear.’

But though Sam, like Margot’s cuddly toy, might be past his prime, I could never do without him.

I won him as a baby while wearing a Little Bo Beep bonnet in a fancy dress competition on a cruise to Gibraltar.

Growing up, he was by my side, day and night. Of course, he had competition – newer bears with glossier coats and shinier eyes came along, as did an ever-expanding army of dolls.

Antonia aged ten with her collection of teddies, including her beloved Sam

Antonia aged ten with her collection of teddies, including her beloved Sam

But Sam – only officially named when I was a nine-year-old tomboy and called him what I wanted to be known as myself – was head bear, the store owner in my make-believe game of shops, the one taken on holiday or chosen to be cuddled in front of the TV.

As a self-conscious teenager, he wasn’t invited on sleepovers, and when friends visited I’d hide him under the duvet, far too cool for a stuffed toy.

But feigning independence in public only made me appreciate the mute companionship Sam offered in private more, and when I packed my bags for university it was a given he’d come too.

You might assume that subsequent boyfriends thought I was bonkers. But one was equally attached to his own tatty bear, and all of them respected that while some seek solace in a packet of biscuits or a soap-opera binge, cuddling a bear was my psychological crutch.

It’s a proven one, too; a 2016 study found college students who held a stuffed animal in group therapy could comfort themselves better, with one student claiming it was the ‘best substitute for relieving pain’.

Becoming a mother might have been an opportune moment to pass my teddy down a generation. Instead, I made it clear to my children that Sam was mummy’s bear. Now aged 13 and 11, my daughter and son rather patronisingly think it’s ‘sweet’ I still sleep with a stuffed toy, having abandoned the bears I bought them as toddlers.

Chris is magnanimous, less bothered by my emotional attachment than the times Sam is shunted over to his side of the bed and he rolls over him in his sleep, ‘which is quite annoying’.

With advancing age, I have grown fanatical about Sam’s future. Mercifully, he has only had one brush with oblivion, when he was accidentally put in a hot wash with our bedding. By the time I realised, the cycle had finished, and my heart hammered as I pulled him, sodden but blessedly still intact, from a tangle of sheets.

Sam doesn’t come on holiday, or indeed leave the house, with me now – the fear of losing him is far greater than a few days’ separation.

I am not alone in my paranoia. Robbie has said only her mother is allowed to mend her bunny, while according to Andersen only the King’s nanny Mabel was permitted to repair his bear: ‘He was well into his 40s, and every time that teddy needed to be repaired, you would think it was his own child having major surgery.’

Antonia says her daughter and son think it's 'sweet' she still sleeps with her stuffed toy Sam

Antonia says her daughter and son think it’s ‘sweet’ she still sleeps with her stuffed toy Sam

So what is at the root of our attachment? In 1953 renowned psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott described the teddy bear as a ‘transitional object’ that helped a child realise they were a separate entity to their mother and taught them to self-soothe autonomously.

Some experts now believe stuffed toys can serve a similar function in adulthood, connecting us to cherished childhood memories and therefore alleviating stress. Meanwhile, a study in the journal Scientific Reports found adults who hugged a human-shaped cushion showed a reduction in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, much as a hug with a human would.

Of course, I hug my family, but they often want something in return, whether pocket money or permission to watch Premier League football all evening. With no emotional needs of his own, Sam sometimes feels a more straightforward proposition. Clutching him at night, I am transported back to a time before deadlines and tax returns, when my biggest worry was what sweets to sell in my make-believe shop the next morning. And that, frankly, feels rather reassuring at the end of a long day.