Loneliness can compromise sleep

People who often feel lonely may find they have trouble getting a good night's rest as a result. This is because new research published in the journal Sleep has shown a reduction in snooze time is just one way such emotions can serve to adversely affect a person's health.

Lianne Kurina of the Department of Health Studies at the University of Chicago - an institute that first held classes in 1892 - noted: "The relationship between loneliness and restless sleep appears to operate across the range of perceived connectedness."

Ms Kurina observed that while loneliness does not seemingly alter the amount of shut-eye individuals enjoy, it does serve to disrupt their sleeping patterns and awaken them throughout the night.

She explained everybody - be they a student at university or an adult residing in a rural setting - can be dependent on feeling secure in their social environment in order to get a good night's sleep.

Dr Helen Nightingale, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Intrusive thoughts and ruminations are very disruptive to sleep, both getting to sleep and also staying asleep. The more powerful the ruminationsns, the more disruptive.

"The lonely person has few distractions, such as other people or family being around or hobbies that will take their mind off unhelpful thoughts and is far more likely to spend time on their own ruminating about being alone or the lack of attention from other people.

"So the statements from the research actually makes sense. A cognitive view would hypothesise that people who feel lonely are isolating themselves in their own mind and over focus on their internal thoughts, which are likely to be unhelpful, such as 'here I am again, all alone, no body cares about me and I could die here and no one would care or come and see if I was alright. Nobody cares about me'.

"This becomes ruminative and a vicious cycle will set up, 'they don't care, so I will ignore them and they don't make the effort so neither shall I'. This vicious cycle further establishes the person's loneliness and isolation.

"The helpful response would be something like, 'what can I do today to help and encourage others to see me, visit me and return to my company'?

"Happiness comes from giving to other people and that will counteract the loneliness."
Professor Colin Espie will be giving a free public lecture on 'Wake Up to Sleep: The importance of sleep to our health and well-being in Birmingham on 30 November 2011.