A report from Psychology Today examines recent research on how feeling lonely relates to sleep quality.
One area of research has focused specifically on the relationship between loneliness and sleep. There are several inter-related questions: Is feeling lonely related to the quality of people’s sleep? What aspects of sleep are related to loneliness? And does loneliness cause sleep problems, or do difficulties with sleeping lead to feelings of loneliness? These issues are important because poor sleep can worsen cognitive decline and psychological distress.
This issue was explored in a paper by Melanie Hom, Caol Chu, Megan Rogers, and Thomas Joiner in the September 2020 issue of Clinical Psychological Science. These authors performed a meta-analysis of studies relating sleep quality to feelings of loneliness. A meta-analysis looks across many published studies to get a sense of the overall pattern of results.
They found 84 studies they could use for the analysis that looked at over 200,000 individuals. Most of these studies studied the individuals only once, but a small number of studies used a longitudinal design in which the same people were followed over time.
Overall, the results indicate that the more people express that they have sleep difficulties, the higher the level of loneliness they feel. This relationship is stronger for insomnia than for sleep complaints like nightmares. In addition, the more loneliness people express, the less effective they think their sleep was.