Can sleep loss trigger loneliness?

24 Jan 2022

Loneliness is a public health concern. It received significant attention during the global pandemic when many people had to socially isolate themselves.

Loneliness can be characterised by the feeling of being alone regardless of the amount of social contact, while social isolation is defined by a lack of social connections. Social isolation can contribute to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated.

Loneliness has been linked to increased mortality and serious health concerns including sleep disruption. But can sleep loss trigger loneliness?

The true impact of insufficient sleep

The loss of sleep can lead to the individual becoming more antisocial and feeling the need to distance oneself from others. According to the research, brain regions that discourage social contact are hypersensitive, while regions that encourage social engagement are impaired. It seems that sleep deprivation has far more reaching consequences than human psychology.

The perception of others

Research found interesting results when people had to view and judge sleep-deprived participants. They identified them as being significantly lonelier compared to when they were well-rested. People were also less likely to connect with the participants that were sleep-deprived. These findings suggest that sleep deprivation could act as a social repellent.

Contagion effect

The anti-social impact of sleep deprivation may be transmissible. People who come in contact with a sleep-deprived individual, feel lonelier themselves as a result. This indicates a viral contagion of social isolation caused by sleep loss.

The key takeaways

We should pay as much attention to sleep and circadian health as we do to exercise and food. Good sleep can prevent feelings of loneliness, social isolation, sadness and depression. It also influences the perception of others and can make a person more socially attractive.

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