A new study quantifies something many can confirm — that loneliness can hinder a normal night’s sleep.
In turn, the poor sleep can adversely affect our health, say researchers from the University of Chicago.
“It’s not just a product of very lonely individuals having poor sleep. The relationship between loneliness and restless sleep appears to operate across the range of perceived connectedness,” said lead author Lianne Kurina, Ph.D.
In the study, Kurina and her co-authors compared the degree of loneliness reported by a close-knit population of adults in rural South Dakota with measurements of their sleep cycles.
None of the individuals were socially isolated, yet their perceptions of loneliness varied.
Higher loneliness scores were linked to significantly higher levels of fragmented sleep. The total amount of sleep and the degree of daytime sleepiness were not impacted.
“Loneliness has been associated with adverse effects on health,” Kurina said. “We wanted to explore one potential pathway for this, the theory that sleep — a key behavior to staying healthy — could be compromised by feelings of loneliness.
“What we found was that loneliness does not appear to change the total amount of sleep in individuals, but awakens them more times during the night.”
The study is published in the journal Sleep.
Researchers report that study findings were similar to an earlier investigation that compared the loneliness reported by college students with their measured quality of sleep.
The lonelier the students felt, the more their sleep was broken up during the night.
The commonalities among the studies show that loneliness and social isolation are two distinct concepts, Kurina said.
Loneliness reflects perceived social isolation or feelings of being an outcast. This perception is created by the often-painful discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.
“Whether you’re a young student at a major university or an older adult living in a rural community, we may all be dependent on feeling secure in our social environment in order to sleep soundly,” Kurina said.
“The results from these studies could further our understanding of how social and psychological factors ‘get under the skin’ and affect health.”