August 18, 2007
Loneliness Bad For Your Health

I hear the Beatles singing. "All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?" University of Chicago psychologists Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo find that lonely people find life more stressful.

However, when the psychologists looked at the lives of the middle-aged and old people in their study, they found that although the lonely ones reported the same number of stressful life events, they identified more sources of chronic stress and recalled more childhood adversity. Moreover, they differed in how they perceived their life experiences. Even when faced with similar challenges, the lonelier people appeared more helpless and threatened. And ironically, they were less apt to actively seek help when they are stressed out.

I also hear Mr. Mackey: "Stress is bad, mmmkay?" (not that he ever said that to my knowledge)

Loneliness cranks up a stressful flight-or-flight chemical state.

Hawkley and Cacioppo then took urine samples from both the lonely and the more contented volunteers, and found that the lonely ones had more of the hormone epinephrine flowing in their bodies. Epinephrine is one of the body’s “fight or flight” chemicals, and high levels indicate that lonely people go through life in a heightened state of arousal. As with blood pressure, this physiological toll likely becomes more apparent with aging. Since the body’s stress hormones are intricately involved in fighting inflammation and infection, it appears that loneliness contributes to the wear and tear of aging through this pathway as well.

Feeling lonely? That stress ages your body more rapidly.

Lonely people don't sleep as well.

There is more bad news. When we experience the depletion caused by stress, our bodies normally rely on restorative processes like sleep to shore us up. But when the researchers monitored the younger volunteers’ sleep, they found that the lonely nights were disturbed by many “micro awakenings.” That is, they appeared to sleep as much as the normal volunteers, but their sleep was of poorer quality. Not surprisingly, the lonelier people reported more daytime dysfunction. Since sleep tends to deteriorate with age anyway, the added hit from loneliness is probably compromising this natural restoration process even more.

You can read the original paper (paid access).

Seeking an end to your loneliness seems akin to seeking a medical treatment.

I also hear Roy Orbison singing "Only The Lonely".

There goes my baby, there goes my heart
They’re gone forever, so far apart
But only the lonely know wh-y-y I cry--only the lonely

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 18 04:17 PM  Aging Studies

Audacious Epigone said at August 21, 2007 11:34 PM:

So diversity really is bad for our health, not just in that it keeps us locked up on the couch in front of the TV more, but because it actually accentuates the amount of stress we experience on a day-to-day basis.

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