Poor sleep and loneliness are two issues that are interconnected in a cycle that affects its sufferer psychologically and physiologically. Loneliness, the sense that one has less social interaction with others than ideal, can be worsened by the lack of sleep.
In a paper by Melanie Hom, Caol Chu, Megan Rogers, and Thomas Joiner in the September 2020 issue of Clinical Psychological Science, the authors discussed their studies relating sleep to loneliness. According to 84 studies, containing over 200,000 individuals, there was an overall pattern that the “more people express that they have sleep difficulties, the higher the level of loneliness they feel.” At the same time, “the more loneliness people express, the less effective they think their sleep was.”
Generally, the connection between earlier sleep difficulties causing loneliness in the future was stronger than early loneliness causing sleep problems. Regardless, both issues worsen the other, perpetuating a cycle that negatively impacts people physically and mentally. Such information enhances our studies of the brain and consciousness as it demonstrates how the brain is affected by perceived social engagement and how the body is affected by the brain’s response.
There are many crucial functions of sleep, as well as devastating effects of sleep deprivation. Firstly, sleep is imperative because it helps us recuperate by restoring and repairing brain tissue, restores and rebuilds our fading memories of the day’s experience, feeds creative thinking, makes us better at problem solving, and supports growth.
Knowing these functions helps explain why loneliness may result from sleep deprivation since without enough sleep the brain cannot function as effectively during social interactions. When speaking to another person, many areas of the brain are utilized, such as the parietal lobes that understand language through expressions, the occipital lobes that receive information from visual fields, and the temporal lobes that receive auditory information from the ears. All of these brain functions are utilized during social interactions, which demand verbal and nonverbal communication, emotional connection, and speaking: actions that require the energy and attention we strengthen through sleep.
In addition, this cycle enhances our studies of the brain by showing the practical application of how sleep deprivation impacts us. Some of the effects of the lack of sleep include difficulty studying, decreased productivity, suppressed immune system, and increased mistakes. In particular, lacking sleep can be a predictor of depression because REM sleep helps us process our emotional experiences and protect against such mental health issues. If one is more susceptible to depression, they are also more likely to be socially isolated and lonely. Similarly, fatigue and exhaustion by lack of sleep will make someone far less likely to go out of their way to expend energy by speaking with others or going outside.
With this increase in loneliness comes more difficulty sleeping since negative emotions, such as feeling excluded or missing friends, can inhibit one’s ability to sleep. For instance, one’s emotional state may cause them to have nightmares, contributing to anxiety that continues preventing them from sleeping. Moreover, increasingly severe sleep issues, such as insomnia, a recurring problem falling or staying asleep, can cause higher levels of loneliness, which in turn will make it even more difficult to sleep.
Thus, lacking sleep can pave the way for loneliness and loneliness makes sleep more difficult, demonstrating a damaging cycle for a person’s physical and psychological health and the importance of adequate sleep.