Feeling lonely is linked to worse sleep, although people do not realise it, research finds.
People who feel lonely tend to wake more in the night, leading to less refreshing sleep.
To sleep well, people need to feel secure in their social environment.
Loneliness, unfortunately, makes people feel less safe, as we are a social species who rely on each other.
Dr Lianne Kurina, the study’s first author, said:
“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.”
The study included 95 people living in a small community in South Dakota.
None of the people in the study were socially isolated, although they felt differing levels of loneliness.
The results showed that people who were more lonely slept the same length of time, but had more fragmented sleep.
However, people did not realise they were sleeping worse themselves.
Objective measures of their movements during the night, though, revealed that people who felt more lonely were more restless.
Dr Kurina said:
“Loneliness has been associated with adverse effects on health.
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.”
A previous study on college student found the same link between loneliness and worse sleep.
Dr Kurina said:
“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.
The results from these studies could further our understanding of how social and psychological factors ‘get under the skin’ and affect health.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Sleep (Kurina et al., 2011).