The degree of loneliness a person feels can have negative impacts on a person’s sleep and health, new research shows. People who feel lonelier may sleep less overall and have a higher risk of health problems.
The Research on Sleep, Health, and Loneliness
Back in 2010, Science Daily reported on research that correlated feelings of loneliness with poorer health. The same study found that loneliness was more about perception than the number or closeness of actual social connections – that well-connected people could feel lonely, or that fairly isolated individuals could feel happy in their alone-ness. It seems to be loneliness, not alone-ness, that has the greatest effects on health.
A more recent Science Daily sleep article reported on research that emphasized the link between loneliness and sleep. Researchers following up the findings published in 2010 examined sleep as a possible avenue by which loneliness could affect health. They found that people who felt lonely woke up more often at night, though the overall length of sleep time didn’t seem to be affected.
As with the 2010 study, the effects of loneliness seemed to be more tied to perceptions of loneliness than to actual connectedness.
Are we lonely because we’re awake, or awake because we’re lonely?
It can be hard to separate correlation from causation in scientific studies. In other words, two things may go together, but it can be hard to tell which causes the other.
In this case, night-time wakefulness and heightened perceptions of loneliness seem to go hand in hand. The researchers seem to think that people who are lonely wake up more during the night.
I wonder if the effect could actually be going the other way – if those who awaken more at night are more likely to feel lonely. I know when I wake up at 3 in the morning it doesn’t matter whether my loved ones are in the house or even curled up in bed with me. If I’m the only one awake, it can feel like I’m the only person in the world.
Have you ever felt truly lonely? How did you sleep? How do you sleep when you feel loved?