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Loneliness Linked to Poor Sleep Quality



NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Lonely individuals may not only be miserable during the day; they may also have a hard time getting a good night's sleep, new study findings show.

"People sometimes think that family and friends don't matter, it's health and status (that's important)," lead study author Dr. John T. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, Illinois, told Reuters Health. But the new findings show that "the social world reaches in and affects our health," he said.

"Our health will decay...if our relationships are poor or negative or absent," Cacioppo added.

He and his colleagues studied 54 college undergraduates to determine the effect of loneliness on sleep quality. Sixteen of the study participants were identified as lonely, 17 as middling, and 21 as non-lonely.

The investigators' laboratory observations of the study participants' sleep patterns revealed that the lonely individuals had less efficient sleep, meaning they slept for shorter periods of time and woke up more often than did non-lonely individuals. Those identified as middling experienced an intermediate amount of restful sleep, as the researchers expected.

Their findings will be published in the July issue of Psychological Science.

In a separate phase of the study, which involved 37 of the original study group, Cacioppo and his team observed the study participants' at-home sleep patterns on five consecutive nights.

Overall, the undergraduates' at-home sleep quality was similar to what they saw in the laboratory, the report indicates.

The lonely individuals again slept less efficiently than their middling and non-lonely peers. However, women reportedly had more restful sleep than men, and also slept roughly 36 minutes longer than the men.

These study findings support previous research that "others in our lives affect our brain and our behavior in part by making restorative physiology--i.e. sleep--more effective," Cacioppo said.

So for those who want to know the secret to spending time well during the day and being energized to face the next morning, the answer may be simple, according to Cacioppo: "Have good relationships."

SOURCE: Psychological Science 2002;13:in press.


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