*This* Surprising Lifestyle Habit Makes You Feel Lonelier, Says Science

August 6, 2020

When was the last time you got a blissful night’s sleep? I’m hoping your answer is, “each and every night, Kat” because a new study has revealed that sleep deprivation is intimately linked to feelings of loneliness. With that beast of an L-word rearing its ugly head at more than one location on the periphery of our society, I think it’s best we pay attention to this one; prevent our own miserable demise and all that jazz.

Oh, sweet slumber; how you never seem to fill the cup quite enough *sigh*. If only it were as simple as head + pillow = serenity, but alas sleep deprivation is something that affects us all from time to time. Whether it’s up every ten minutes tending to a newborn, praying for a reprieve or the tossing and turning as a result of anxiety over a looming deadline, we can unanimously agree that begrudgingly dragging ourselves out of bed after one of those nights is never a recipe for greatness. We might power on through, sure, because it’s almost always required of us to just get on with reality, but the contrast when one is next granted the opportunity to wake from a sweet, eight-hour snooze is immense. A solid night’s sleep provides us with the tools for efflorescence into our energized and ebullient best selves.

We know that sleep is fundamental to our overall well-being. It keeps our minds focussed, our memories tenacious and our decision-making sharp. But in addition to those aforementioned essentials (of which you’re probably very familiar), sleep is paramount for maintaining healthy social interactions. A team of researchers at UC Berkeley have found that those who are sleep-deprived feel much lonelier than those getting a healthy dose. But more than just feeling lonely, subjects are actually less inclined to interact with others, avoiding eye contact and the like. The feelings of loneliness are justified – it is a logical result of social withdrawal.

It goes one step further though—and this is where your ears might perk up. Sleep-deprived individuals give off an energy that makes them less attractive to others, furthering their feelings of isolation and leaving the person they encounter a bit bewildered and themselves in turn with a newfound sense of isolation and loneliness. The study  – the first of its kind – highlights an important two-way interaction between individuals that can result in both parties feeling more lonely than they did prior to meeting in the first place. Is this giving some solid evidence to the global loneliness epidemic that we’ve all been feeling creeping up these past few years?

When one thinks about the formula for loneliness, it’s likely that physical isolation appears at the forefront of your mind as an obvious cause. To a certain extent, of course this is true; we are a social species and thrive on the relationships we have with one another at a level as fundamental as the food we eat. If we physically isolate ourselves from one another, due to more of us living alone, working excessively etc, that’s an obvious causative agent of the epidemic. However, what about the loneliness that ensues while we’re physically in the company of others? I’m sure you can clearly picture a time—maybe even earlier today—that you were sat near or amongst a group of people while silence permeated the space as everyone stared at his or her phone, scrolling aimlessly. This is a source of loneliness hidden in plain sight and thus one of the most deadly culprits.

So, let’s look at sleep deprivation. As mentioned earlier, it can be caused by a plethora of different elements that alone are enough to perturb our circadian rhythms. Combined, they can culminate in a hellish ordeal. We’ve got noise pollution which is almost unavoidable for urban-dwellers, light pollution again: near unavoidable, and then the sense of constantly being on the go as a result of social media/smartphone addictions. These assiduous sources of interference all rack up and can result in chronic sleep disturbance.

We seem to find ourselves placed in a world growing ever more competitive by the minute. Productivity is praised and relaxation shunned by the masses, guilt-tripped into clutching our to-do lists late into the night, figuring out how we can do more in the same number of hours the following day. The way we have shaped our culture with a growing number of things expected as able to be done on-the-go means that we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that we are natural multi-taskers. More, that we need to be to keep up.

Only, our capacity to focus and cope with stress is finite. Something has to give. Something always has to give. And so I hope the word balance soon truly becomes sacred and something to strive for; downtime considered as precious as those times we do things. Because if we can only keep up with the workload at the expense of our mental and physical health, we’ve got to ask ourselves: are we really living?

You might read all this and still proceed to work into the night tonight, struggling to sleep once more because you didn’t allow yourself time to wind down and relax, but repeat the pattern long enough and you’ll be riddled with dull skin, a compromised immune system and, if you’re lucky, an epiphanic moment wondering why no one calls you anymore.

Have you struggled with sleep deprivation or loneliness? What are your favorite techniques to unwind before bed?

Also by Kat: Newsflash: Your Food Intolerances Could Just Be Stress. How To Tell The Difference

Related: *This* Is The Ideal Temp You Should Be Sleeping In, If You Want To Slim Down

Return To Blissful, Healthy Sleep (Sans Pills) With These Gentle Methods

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Photo:  Ann Danilina on Unsplash
Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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