The Link Between Loneliness and Sleep

The Link Between Loneliness and Sleep

Mental health is a hot topic right now – especially as we battle a global pandemic where many of us are feeling anxious and lonely in lockdown. Two mental health issues are thus getting the most PR (and for good reason): chronic lack of sleep and increasing feelings of loneliness (which keeps mounting despite a whole bunch of social media apps claiming to connect us). 

A new study has surfaced that found there’s a solid connection between the two main mental health issues – and it goes both ways: sleeplessness (ergo, being tired), can make us feel lonelier AND it may also send signals that keep people away. Which literally makes us even lonelier.

In this study, folks were asked to get a good night’s rest one night, and then sleep too little the next. This went on for a few days. After each day, they completed a social distance experiment where they were asked to indicate when a person was getting too close for comfort. On the sleep deprived days, the participants needed their counterparts to keep more than 60% further away than when well rested.

At the same time, the participants also had their brains scanned - these scans showed that the brain area linked to social repulsion lights up more when sleep deprived, and the area linked with social engagement showed less activity. So, to put into layman’s terms, tired folks don’t feel like engaging socially with others – whether it is because of lack of physical energy, whether it’s because their brains aren’t firing on all cylinders or because they are lacking in emotional capacity. These are all issues that you deal with when sleep deprived.  

The counterparts were then questioned on who they would be more keen to hang out with, between the well rested and sleep deprived folks (not knowing which was which), and the well rested individuals won out every time.  

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From the study’s findings, it’s clear that a lack of sleep increases feelings of loneliness and decreases the likelihood that others would want to interact with you. But setting scientific findings aside, I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own life. Cannot stand the thought of having to go to a friend’s birthday party after you’ve pulled an all-nighter studying? Feel like you’re having a ‘fat day’ / ‘bad hair day’ when you wake up tired and narky? Yup, I feel you.

And this vicious cycle is just becoming more hectic as we add more social media (helloooooo TikTok) and Netflix series to our to-do list. We sleep less because we are busy with work, TV and Instagram – which means we become a social turn off. Loneliness soon kicks in, and that leads to sleep problems.

Moral of this (and most other) stories? Prioritise sleep and you should be golden.

Written by Nina Clark, Nightire founder

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