New Study Finds Another Big Reason Why You Should Get More Sleep

All of us have felt lonely at one point or another, though for some people this feeling is more consistently present. In a 2024 American Psychiatric Association poll, about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. reported feeling lonely at least once a week over the past year.

But research suggests that there could be a surprising way to ease this feeling. A study presented in June analyzed the relationship between sleep health and loneliness among 2,297 U.S. adults. It found that having a good night’s rest was linked to a reduction in feeling lonely. (The recommended amount of sleep for adults is between seven and nine hours.)

Each study participant filled out an online sleep questionnaire and was rated on the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, which measures emotional and social loneliness. “Emotional loneliness” was defined in the study as missing an intimate relationship, like one with a partner. “Social loneliness” was defined as missing a wider social network.

There was a stronger link between better sleep and lower loneliness ― especially emotional loneliness ― for younger adults, although researches were not sure why. Sleep health was measured by assessing sleep regularity, satisfaction, timing, duration, efficiency and alertness during the day.

To understand why being at a younger age may strengthen the relationship between sleep and loneliness, more research is needed. “I want to see more studies to bolster that finding, because there are some conflicting studies in the past that have shown that age has nothing to do with this correlation,” Nicole Moshfegh, a clinical sleep psychologist at a private practice in Los Angeles who was not affiliated with the new study, told HuffPost.

Why might feelings of loneliness be related to how we sleep?

Some previous studies found that loneliness may affect a person’s sleep, while others showed that having poor sleep can lead to feelings of loneliness. “I’m seeing it as a bidirectional relationship at this point,” Moshfegh said.

While sleeping poorly doesn’t necessarily lead to an emotional issue, it can sometimes be a contributing factor, said Yishan Xu, a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist based in California. Xu was not affiliated with the recent study.

Both sleep psychologists who spoke to HuffPost cited a few reasons for why poor sleep may contribute to a person’s feelings of loneliness.

First, a person may be less interested in interacting with others and withdraw from social interactions if they are not well rested, Xu said.

On top of that, when we’re not sleeping enough to meet our body’s needs, “we may see increased mood and anxiety problems,” said Moshfegh. “We may feel more helpless, have lower sense of self-worth or self-esteem, then we may start to perceive ourselves as feeling alone and isolated.”

A person might be more irritable or less empathetic, and interpret what others do or say to them through a negative lens, Xu explained. They are left feeling like others do not understand or like them.

One reason for this is that the brain consolidates your thoughts and memories from the day during sleep. For example, in the rapid eye movement stage of sleep, the brain processes emotional memories it captured while you were awake, Xu said. If a person experiences consistent interruptions during this REM stage, their brain will not have enough time to do this processing, and this can make the person more likely to experience mood problems when awake.

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Prioritizing sleep is essential for your physical and mental health.

Here are some methods for sleeping better at night.

Since sleep can potentially affect your mood, emotions and social interactions, sleep psychologists have suggestions for improving your shut-eye and maintaining a healthy sleep routine.

Wake up at or close to the same time every day.

The body’s internal clock, also known as its circadian rhythm, is important for sleep because it tells the body when to be awake and when to wind down.

To maintain a circadian rhythm that tells your body to feel sleepy when it gets dark, Moshfegh and Xu emphasized the importance of a consistent wake-up time every morning.

This is more effective than stressing over what time you should go to bed, said Xu, who acknowledged that it can be more difficult to stick to the same bedtime every night, given that your responsibilities look different each day.

Get some sunshine in the morning.

Your circadian rhythm is synchronized to the passage of the day. Several cues help to keep it on track, such as regular meals, daily routines and light. At least 15 minutes of morning sunlight exposure can reset your internal clock, said Moshfegh and Xu.

“We need the light to get into our eye, because that’s where it connects to our brain to adjust our circadian rhythm,” Xu explained. (Of course, this does not mean looking directly at the sun!)

Being outdoors to soak up the morning light is ideal, because windows filter out some of it, Xu added. If morning light is scarce where you live, turn on some bright lights in your home for at least 15 minutes, Moshfegh said.

Lean into practices that help you lower stress.

Stress is often a major reason for suboptimal sleep. For anyone who feels chronically stressed or is currently experiencing increased stress, Moshfegh encouraged looking at ways to lower your stress levels.

Think about how you have successfully managed your stress in the past, and start putting these methods into practice more intentionally. If it’s taking a gentle walk in the afternoon, writing your thoughts and emotions down on paper, moving your body, reading a book, or spending time with trusted friends, do that.

You can also try a mindfulness practice or a relaxation exercise, like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, Moshfegh said. Even 10 minutes a day can make a difference over time.

Minimize naps, especially if you’re not sleeping well during the night.

If you’re already facing sleep difficulties, try your best to avoid napping during the day. “We want to build up our sleep drive as much as possible,” explained Moshfegh, since “it’s one of only two things that controls our sleep,” in addition to the circadian rhythm.

Your body’s sleep drive rises throughout the day while awake so that you are able to fall asleep at night. Regular naps deplete your sleep drive levels.

If you’re experiencing persistent loneliness, seek out a mental health provider.

It is important to acknowledge that some adults who are lonely may not get many benefits from general wellness guidelines alone, such as getting better sleep, Moshfegh said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing feelings of loneliness, consider speaking to a professional mental health provider. A therapist can help you work through feelings of loneliness and get you to a place where you feel supported again.