By Jennifer Nelson
Is loneliness keeping you up at night? According to research, how lonely you are may affect how well you sleep. A study in the journal SLEEP asked 95 adults living in rural South Dakota about their feelings of isolation and loneliness, then measured their sleep cycles.
When researchers compared the findings of those who said they were lonely with those who weren’t, they found the lonelier people are, the worse they slept and the more often they woke up at night.
In fact, the lonelier the study participants claimed they were, the worse they slept.
“Loneliness leads to reduced sleep,” said Dr. Cary Presant of Wilshire Oncology Medical Group at the California Cancer Medical Center and author of, "Surviving American Medicine.” According to a study conducted by AARP, about 40 percent of people say they are lonely today, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.
What’s worse, loneliness may be worse for your health than obesity and up your early death risk by 14 percent.
“Decreased sleep may be due to associated depression or anxiety about lack of social interactions, or to stress,” said Presant. Or it may be related to increased inflammatory responses in the body. But loneliness (sometimes described by a patient as the symptom when it is really depression or fatigue)also could be a symptom of a deeper illness and due to pain, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders, respiratory conditions or even cancer, Presant noted.
It’s important to discuss symptoms of loneliness with your physician and take steps to diagnose any underlying conditions. Overcoming loneliness by increasing social interactions may go a long way to improve your health—and your shut-eye.
Here are few things to try to combat loneliness:
- Join a club.
- Visit a church or synagogue you’re interested in.
- Attend lectures.
- Register for a class in an area you’re interested in, such cooking or a foreign language.
- Join a sewing or quilting group, a book club or a neighborhood watch.
- Ask co-workers and neighbors to lunch or over for dinner.
- Take a yoga or exercise class.
- Chat up the waitress you know in your favorite restaurant, the assistant at the doctor’s office or others with whom you may have common interests.
- Talk to your doctor about any sleep concerns.