That's the why

Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 01:00

Why is loneliness bad for your health?

LONELINESS HAS been linked with increased risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease in women and depression.

It’s a complex area but research in the US looked at one possible aspect of why that might be: the effects of loneliness – perceived social isolation – on sleep.

The study, which was published last year in the journal Sleep, involved 95 adults from the Hutterite community in South Dakota.

Researchers interviewed the participants about loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress, as well as subjective sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. They also used small, watch-like actigraphs to measure their sleep cycles.

And what did they find? Higher scores on the loneliness scale didn’t seem to be linked to the length of sleep, but they were associated with more fragmented sleep.

“Loneliness was a significant predictor of sleep fragmentation,” wrote the authors. “In this study, lonely individuals experienced significantly more sleep fragmentation than did those who reported more connection to others, suggesting that perceptions of a secure social surround may promote a better, more restful nights sleep.”

The results echo a 2002 study in Psychological Science of college students, where again loneliness was linked with poorer sleep.

Such associations can’t tell you explicitly whether one thing (poor sleep) causes the other (loneliness), but the authors of the new study suggest that sleep could be “a pathway through which perceived social isolation affects health”.