If you’re not sleeping well, a new mattress or pillow might solve the problem, or maybe your body is telling you to become more social. A recent study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine linked loneliness to poor sleeping habits and ultimately to impaired health.
College students are especially susceptible because college is presumably the most social time of an individual’s life while at the same time one of the loneliest, according to CSUN psychology professor Dr. George Lough.
“It’s not the lack of friends that’s making you feel lonely, it’s the life transition you’re in,” said Lough. “In a sense, you are kind of out there for the first time.”
Young adults challenged in the real world feel pressure to have a blossoming social life once they get into college.
“There’s a very strong expectation that they are very social and they’re going to be making friends and it’s not an easy situation to be in,” said lead author of the study Dr. Lianne Kurina, of the Department of Health Studies at the University of Chicago. “When people go off to college and don’t know anybody, it can be a scary situation and can induce those feelings of loneliness.”
Three Dog Night sang of one being the “loneliest number” but surrounding yourself with a lot of people doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t lonely. Loneliness can sneak up even on a student wrapped tightly in the college social scene. At the same time, the added pressure of expecting to be social can make an introvert lonely as well.
“I have a lot of friends but at the same time I don’t really hang out with any of them except for a small group,” said Alex Foroutan, a senior history major. “If I don’t feel support from my small group of friends, then I feel lonely.”
That strong support system is like a good mattress: a good night’s sleep is nearly impossible without it.
“Usually when I’m in a situation that I wish I could share with someone is when I’m the most lonely,” said Foroutan, who attributes his four to five hours of sleep per night to not being able to fall asleep then waking up intermittently in the middle of the night.
When sleep becomes compromised, the study shows health follows suit.
“People who are lonely tend to take less care of themselves,” said Kurina.
Loneliness increases blood pressure and risk of depression and mortality according to Kurina.
“You’re at a higher stress level when you don’t belong to a group, when you don’t have that feeling of group cohesion,” said Lough. “Any kind of stress reduces immune system functions.”
Orson Welles once said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we aren’t alone.”