Sleep deprivation seems like no big deal. Most of us struggle to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, and have, on more than one occasion, been forced to deal with just a few hours of sleep before a major project or responsibility. We know that sleep deprivation can lead to poor cognitive abilities, like creative thinking and memory, and that if prolonged, it can lead to physical symptoms like heart disease, but the more we learn about sleep deprivation, the more varied its effects seem to be.
Sleep Deprivation and Loneliness
One of the most recent studies to emerge focuses on the surprising link between sleep deprivation and loneliness. The laboratory phase of the study, which only involved 18 people, used careful measurements of sleep, participation of standardized social distance tasks, and fMRI results to determine whether there was a causal link between sleep deprivation and feelings of loneliness or isolation. The first online portion of the study reviewed 138 participants and focused on self-reported responses to questions about sleep habits and feelings. The second online portion of the study focused on 1,033 independent judges watching interviewees and reporting their own feelings of isolation.
Overall, it seems that sleep deprivation can lead to a “neural and behavioral phenotype of social withdrawal and loneliness.” In other words, if you miss out on sleep completely, you may intentionally withdraw yourself from others, and exhibit patterns of behavior that make other people less likely to engage with you socially, in return.
This problem is complicated by the fact that isolation can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, ultimately making it even harder to get a good night’s sleep. And of course, sleep deprivation, loneliness, and depression all increase your risk of mortality (and a host of other physical and mental health issues). The only way to proactively address these problems is to improve both your sleep habits and your socialization habits.
Improving Your Sleeping Habits
You can start by using the following strategies to improve your sleep schedule:
- Use natural remedies. You can start by trying natural remedies. Kava, for example, is said to promote feelings of calmness and tranquility, and has been used as a supplement to alleviate sleeplessness for decades. These supplements can make it easier to fall asleep, and improve your quality of sleep as well.
- Cut out caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine may make you feel more alert during the day, but it can make it harder for you to fall asleep later—even hours later in the day. Alcohol can make you feel sleepy but will decrease the quality of your sleep. Try to cut back on both substances for better sleep.
- Maintain a consistent schedule. Consistency is key if you want to get a better night’s rest. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning. Even if this cuts into your “sleeping in” time during the weekends, you’ll find it easier to maintain healthy sleep habits this way.
- Exercise and eat healthy. Leading a healthy lifestyle is key if you want to sleep better. Try to eat healthier foods, cutting out fast food and sodas and instead focusing on vegetables and whole foods. While you’re at it, get at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise a day.
- Avoid digital distractions before bedtime. Screens entertain us, but they also interfere with our natural sleep patterns. Avoid TV binges, video games, or smartphone engagement in the hours before bedtime.
Improving Your Socialization Habits
Next, you can go out of your way to be more social:
- Schedule time with friends and family. We’re all busy. If you want to be social with other people, you have to schedule that time in advance. Go out of your way to arrange dates and meetings with the people you love.
- Talk to your coworkers. Social interaction takes many forms. Go out of your way to talk to the people in your surroundings, including your coworkers.
- Avoid using your smartphone in public. It’s becoming commonplace and natural for people to stay heads-down, focused on their smartphones when in public. It’s a convenient way to distract yourself when you’re in line at the grocery store or walking to a bus stop. But putting the phone away will make you more approachable, and give you more opportunities to talk to the people around you, whether they’re strangers or people you’re out with.
Even small adjustments will add up to improve your life, one step at a time. You’ll feel more at ease in your environment, more connected with your social circles, and better-rested. Together, these healthy habits will help you live a longer, happier, and fuller life.