Calvin College Chimes

Loneliness and sleep quality are linked, study finds

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A study published in May titled “Sleeping with one eye open: loneliness and sleep quality in young adults” articulated a link between loneliness and poor sleep quality.

Researchers studied “members of the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, which tracks the development of a birth cohort of 2232 British children.” Same-sex twin participants were studied at ages 5, 7, 10, 12 and 18. Researchers used a sleep index and asked questions from a loneliness scale developed at the University of California, Los Angeles. Loneliness scale questions included “‘How often do you feel left out?’, ‘How often do you feel isolated from others?’ and ‘How often do you feel alone?’”

David Koetje, a Calvin biology professor and student advisor, said, “While college students have always wrestled with loneliness, anxiety, and depression, the data that I’ve seen show that today’s college students do so more than ever before.”

Junior Marissa Smits said that her loneliness has varied throughout her time at Calvin due to varying factors.

“I wish I could say that my loneliness is better [today] than in my first semester at Calvin, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true,” said Marissa Smits. “During my first semester at Calvin, loneliness was a result of my desire to make new friends and struggling to do that.”

“Today’s college students tend to place more emphasis (and feelings of self-worth) on their interconnections with friends; social media tends to amplify this,” said Koetje.

Smits said “I still experience loneliness now, but it’s different loneliness than my first semester. I’m one of the only one [of my friends] applying for grad school, so in that way, I feel lonely and isolated at times.”

Researchers also said that “exposure to violence” as a child and teen affected the intensity of this link. This association between sleep and loneliness may be seen through PTSD or depression symptoms if someone was exposed to violence as a teen.

“During a good night’s sleep, the brain works through problems encountered during the day, often resolving some of those problems,” said Koetje. ”Skimping on sleep reduces the brain’s ability to do this well. In turn, we are less able to think, resolve problems and feel good about ourselves–all of which can collectively contribute to loneliness.”

The researchers concluded that “[their] findings underscore the importance of early intervention to reduce loneliness in young people, which may be the starting point for a cascade of physical health problems in later life.”

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