Several different studies have shown that there is a correlation between the number of years a person is married and their life expectancy.  The more years they are married, the longer they live.  Researchers believe this is due in part to the social structure and support system that comes with sharing your life with another person and the impact that has on overall health.   The theory is that social connectedness leads to better health.

Other research published in recent years shows a substantial link between sleep quality and overall health.  People who experience sleep disturbances and disorders are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.   A new study published in the journal Sleep sought to bridge these two areas of research.

The objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between loneliness and sleep.  Past research has shown that there is a direct relationship between being lonely and being in poor health.  Research into sleep patterns indicates that sleep deprivation and sleep fragmentation can be very detrimental to overall health.  Using both of these proven relationships, the research team wanted to find out if being lonely impacts the amount of sleep you get which in turn affects your health.

The team looked at two types of sleep disturbance: sleep fragmentation and sleep duration.  The study included 95 individuals 19 years old or older from a traditional rural community in South Dakota.  Participants were interviewed about their sleep habits, daytime sleepiness, and regular sleep patterns, sleep disturbances, and mental health considerations like loneliness, depression, anxiety, stress, and other factors.  As part of the study, all participants wore a wrist actigraph for a week to capture sleep data that was objective rather than anecdotal.  The actigraph captured data about how fragmented the participants sleep was each night and their overall sleep duration.

The findings were not surprising in that they supported the team’s original hypothesis.  Those people who had high loneliness scores also experienced higher rates of fragmented sleep, meaning they woke up more often than their less lonely peers.   Sleep fragmentation is one of the main factors in low quality sleep and can impact the amount of time you spend in REM and restorative sleep each night.  By tying all the research together, it is easy to theorize that lonely people wake up more frequently which impacts the quality of their sleep and compromises their overall health.

The next question to answer is why.  What is it about being lonely, feeling separate from others like ourselves that makes it so difficult for us to sleep?  It may be that the social part of us craves the company of others.  It may be that our primal instinct is to seek safety in numbers and without that support, we have difficulty allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as we become when we sleep.  It may result from the impact that other people in our lives have on our health by setting good examples, providing new information and experiences, and urging us to take better care of ourselves.

Further research will be needed to determine why the relationship between loneliness and sleep fragmentation exists.   For now, proving the link between loneliness and sleep opens the door for additional research into how our social connectedness impacts our overall health and what role sleep plays in this picture.

About Valley Sleep Center:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900;