Loneliness May Disrupt Sleep

Study Shows That People Who Feel Lonely Are More Likely to Wake Up During the Night

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 1, 2011 -- Feeling lonely may make it harder to get a good night's sleep.

A new study shows that people who feel lonely are more likely to wake up during the night and have fragmented sleep. Study results may help explain why loneliness is associated with ill health effects.

"Loneliness," says Lianne Kurina, PhD, "has been associated with adverse effects on health. We wanted to explore one potential pathway for this." Kurina is an assistant professor in the department of health studies at the University of Chicago.

In a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Kurina says that sleep is a key behavior for staying healthy. So researchers wanted to explore the effect feeling lonely could have on sleep.

What they found, Kurina says, is that loneliness does not appear to change how much sleep a person gets. It does, though, wake them more often during the night.

Loneliness and Quality of Sleep

The study was published in the journal Sleep. In it, researchers evaluated the effect loneliness has on both the quality and the amount of sleep people get.

The participants -- 95 adults living in South Dakota -- wore a wristband that measured their sleep patterns for one week. In particular, the band recorded sleep fragmentation and duration.

People with higher levels of loneliness, the study shows, are more likely to wake frequently during the night. As the loneliness score increases, so does the amount of fragmented sleep.

There was no association between loneliness and total sleep or daytime sleepiness.

People in the study were part of a close-knit farming community. Consequently, the study highlights that loneliness and social isolation are two different concepts. The difference between them is perception.

Feelings of loneliness come from a perception of isolation and lack of connections with people.

The effect that loneliness has on sleep, Kurina says, seems to hold true across the range of "perceived connectedness." She concludes that studies such as this one can further the understanding of how social and psychological factors can "get under the skin and affect health."

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SOURCES: Kurina, L. Sleep, Nov. 1, 2011.News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

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