Sleeping alone and feeling alone or lonely are certainly different phenomena, as many people spend decades alone and have no problem with either sleeping or waking issues. For some, however, patterns of loneliness that may date to childhood or to adult events can throw off their patterns of sleep, waking them at 3 a.m. or so and disrupting their entire sleep experience.
Depression, which may or may not be associated with feelings of loneliness, can also disrupt one’s nighttime rejuvenation. Studies have shown that depression is not the only risk factor associated with loneliness, however. Elevated blood pressure and obesity are often byproducts of loneliness as well, and both of these can exacerbate sleep problems.
Scientists are still studying the connection between loneliness and sleep disruptions, but one theory holds that lonely people, with less structure in their lives, might go to bed earlier than their bodies are dictating, just out of sheer boredom or lack of anything better to do. Thus they awake at weird hours, their bodies confused by the early bedtime.
Loneliness and its sleep encumbrances can be inherited as well. “Genes affect a person’s propensity for loneliness too,” says Louise Hawkley, PhD, a senior research scientist at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. “And for a person prone to feeling lonely, a difficult childhood event can trigger chronic loneliness that lasts a lifetime.”
If you feel that loneliness is robbing you of your night’s rest and rejuvenation, there are steps you can take. “Do anything possible to assuage your loneliness,” Hawkley says. “Finding just one person you connect with can make a monumental difference.” Of course, if that person is your spouse or live-in roommate, he or she may not be ready to coddle you at 3 a.m. So what are the other keys?
- If you are suffering from even mild depression, or just feeling down most of the time, seek out professional help for therapy and/or medications.
- If your loneliness springs from childhood or other discernible events, consult with a therapist to work you through the issues still plaguing you.
- Try to adopt a better frame of mind. Often, the way we think determines the way things turn out for us. Work on your mental approach to all things, including sleep.
- Find a hobby or life-pursuit that will help fill the void and bring about a renewed sense of achievement and connection to the world. Even volunteering for local charities or civic groups can help assuage the lonely feelings of not belonging.
Whenever you have sleep issues, regardless of how you think they’ve originated, it’s always a good idea to seek out the evaluation and advice of a sleep professional, such as those found at The Snoring Center. Start by consulting with those who have decades of experience in helping others with sleep problems.