This article demonstrates the amazing complexity of how we function and how everything in life is interconnected. Typically things that benefit (or hinder) one area of our lives will have a ripple effect into other areas. The connection between loneliness and poor sleep is not one that we would immediately make, but an article published in the journal Sleep found exactly that.
In this context, loneliness is defined as the difference between desired and actual social relationships. Furthermore, loneliness reflects the quality rather than quantity of those relationships. A sample of 95 adults were assessed for loneliness and sleep patterns and researchers found that as loneliness increased, sleep quality decreased. Interestingly, sleep duration did not differ between the two groups. Although sleep duration is important, sleep quality is even more important, because that is when your body is able to repair and rejuvenate itself.
Why would feelings of loneliness affect our sleep quality? The researchers of this article suspect that it is routed in our evolutionary past. In traditional societies, humans required safe social networks for survival. A lack of a secure social network results in increased feelings of alertness and vulnerability, which likely manifest at night as feeling of restlessness and fragmented sleep.
Furthermore, another study found that women who report higher levels of loneliness have a significantly greater risk of incident coronary heart disease compared with women who were not lonely. Researchers suspect that loneliness causes hormonal imbalance that promotes inflammation. One important point highlighted in this study was that neither social network size, nor the frequency of interactions differs between lonely and non-lonely people. Essentially, this means that you can be around people every day, yet still be very lonely if your relationships never move past “small talk.”
Although we love to look to the latest nutrition or exercise tip to improve our health, sometimes its as simple as spending time with the ones we love. Other times its more difficult and we have to be open to putting ourselves out there to make new friends. Either way, it is a decision you will never regret.