The Connection Between Loneliness and Sleep

Loneliness can negatively impact your sleep and can arise from a lack of sleep. It can contribute to different sleep disorders and other sleep-related issues.

Mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to establishing a healthy, sensible sleeping schedule (and in general). Anxiety and stress are notorious sleep-killers that contribute to different sleep disorders and other sleep-related issues. However, the level of a person’s physical health and well-being is much more obvious than their mental state, especially since a lot of us treat hiding our emotions and anxiety as a part of “adult behavior.” It can be hard to get an accurate psychological reading on someone because the field isn’t as exact as anatomy.

Humans are social creatures and thus susceptible to loneliness – the feeling of being socially abandoned and alone, which often comes with negative interpretations of social scenarios and similar issues. Much like depression (which it is often associated with), loneliness can negatively impact your sleep and can arise from a lack of sleep, which makes it a vicious cycle that leads to more and more daily fatigue and further problems. In this article, we will go over how loneliness and sleep are connected, so you can make informed decisions when seeking medical intervention and following your doctor’s guidelines. Let’s get into it.

Note: If you’re dealing with sleep deprivation regularly, start tracking your sleep as soon as possible. A good sleep journal is crucial in helping your doctor create an accurate diagnosis. Write down when you fall asleep, when you wake up, how often you wake up during the night, how tired you feel in the evening and morning, and every similar piece of information.


How It All Works – A Study Examination

Sleep deprivation is the most common consequence of every sleeping disorder, and it is a constant looming problem in our daily lives in general. It’s incredibly easy to become sleep-deprived, as all it takes is a single night of sub-optimal rest to rack up a considerable amount of “sleep debt” and suffer the consequences of fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. Ask any working adult you know about their experiences with daily fatigue, and you may even hear workplace accident horror stories because fatigue affects you in many negative ways, including but not limited to:

  • A higher level of irritability, making the fatigued person more irritable, aggressive, and prone to taking risks. Depending on where they are, this can manifest in different ways, the most dangerous ones being during traffic. Their willingness to socialize and tolerate other people drops, which obviously leads to feelings of loneliness.
  • Worse awareness of one’s surroundings. When you’re sleep-deprived, it’s harder to detect stimuli and visual cues from the world around you. This is incredibly dangerous for people working in positions that require sharp spatial awareness, such as driving transport vehicles.
  • Weaker hand-eye coordination is another common consequence of fatigue. It usually matters when performing delicate work, or work that requires precision, such as surgery.
  • It becomes much harder to commit things to memory or remember already known information. Studying is much harder when you’re tired, and it can also be difficult to remember important dates and other things to consider that you would need in a social scenario.
  • Fatigued people have difficulty concentrating on tasks. Most math problems or logic puzzles take longer to perform or (in case of time limits) are performed to a lower standard.
  • In part due to the above reasons, sleep deprivation and fatigue cause stress and anxiety. It can create a dangerous connection between fatigue and depression, and lead to or link up with feelings of loneliness in a person.

Worst of all, the ways we try to “make up for lost time” and deal with sleep deprivation are not usually healthy. There is a thin line between useful and healthy daytime naps and a ruined sleep schedule that loops the problem back into fatigue, causing escalating health issues.

The part we are most interested in when it comes to sleep deprivation is its social outcome or manifestation. Someone who is irritable, exhausted and unfocused is likely to avoid social interactions and naturally develop a sense of loneliness, especially if the sleep deprivation is chronic or similarly severe. A study was done recently on how sleep deprivation leads to social withdrawal and eventually causes loneliness, and the researchers conducted a handful of exercises to explore this theory. One of the exercises included footage of a person approaching the viewer with a neutral expression on their face.

The subjects were told to press a button when the person gets too close for comfort. This was done with well-rested and sleep-deprived subjects, and the results were clear – sleep-deprived people stopped the recording anywhere between 20-60% earlier than well-rested subjects. It didn’t stop there, either. Brain scans of all involved subjects showcased a different set of patterns between well-rested and fatigued brains. The most important result is that the section of their brain responsible for social interaction was nearly completely inactive when they were under sleep deprivation – but their threat response section was lit up, indicating that exhausted people feel at least mildly threatened by the prospect of social scenarios.

The study didn’t end there. The subjects were asked to rate their own feelings of loneliness, once after having a good rest the previous night, and once while sleep-deprived. Their ratings were much more negative when they were tired, which made sense given the previous results. The next step was recruiting participants via the Amazon Mechanical Turk to view footage of recorded conversations involving the original subjects. The new participants were tasked to rate the subjects based on their level of perceived loneliness and social desirability. The results were clear – sleep-deprived individuals were considered less socially desirable (meaning that the viewers were less interested in interacting with them) than rested ones.

So what does all this mean? It’s quite easy to understand – sleep deprivation makes the person in question much less willing to engage in social interaction because they see other people as a threat, at least to a small extent. Largely because of this, other people are more inclined to consider them socially undesirable or repulsive, which creates a scenario of social isolation and eventually leads to feelings of loneliness. This problem is severe enough that loneliness is considered a public health crisis by experts. A whopping 46% percent of people in the United States experience loneliness either sometimes or always. Not only that but their mortality risk increases by as much as 30%, often depending on other biological factors.

Obviously, not every lonely person is sleep deprived; it’s not a 1-1 correlation. But with how sleep deprivation is creeping into every corner of our society, it may not be far from the truth. Both sleep deprivation and social isolation have negative consequences for your health. Because of this, loneliness is considered a potential contributing factor to a number of sleeping disorders, since it’s closely linked with stress, anxiety, and depression. This means that sleep deprivation and loneliness frequently lead into each other, making it very hard to break out of the vicious cycle and fix your health problems and work performance. It takes a considerable amount of effort to maintain good social relations with people if you’re chronically sleep-deprived, as your desire to interact with them drops, making you less fun to be around. Make sure to contextualize it all properly in your head – being isolated is not normal, and if you sleep poorly, it is a huge reason why you’re feeling lonely. The sooner you can set your schedule straight, the sooner you can fix your social life.

Fixing your sleep schedule is done by a variety of methods. We recommend consulting your doctor about your sleeping problems, as they’re equipped to prescribe methods that will work the best for your specific needs. Not everyone responds to every treatment method optimally, so make sure you know what you’re getting into. A simple bedtime routine or planned physical workouts can drastically reduce sleep onset latency and let you get proper rest, which can alleviate the feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. A diet plan is not only useful for healthy sleep, but it brings a whole host of other benefits when it comes to your physical well-being. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, so all these small changes to your lifestyle can contribute a lot to a positive mental state. Include relaxation exercises such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises into the mix if you are still experiencing issues. If you have a sleep disorder (or even suspect you have one), get it checked out by signing up for polysomnography (with your doctor’s approval) and maintain a sleeping journal.


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