5 little known facts about loneliness
While everyone feels lonely from time to time, it can be a chronic issue for some. People who live with chronic loneliness are prone to adverse effects on not just their mental health, but their physical well-being also. There has been an oasis of research on the effects of loneliness in the past decade, with researchers finding associations between loneliness and degenerative brain diseases, insomnia and even death. The following is a list of five recently discovered and little known facts about loneliness:
- It affects the brain in a similar way to physical pain – A UCLA study found that in cases of loneliness from being marginalized, activity was seen in the same regions of the brain that register physical pain during brain scans. The authors believe this can be traced back to prehistoric times, where staying in a social group equated to a higher chance of survival. With this in mind, it makes sense that people’s stress response is activated when they feel lonely in order to prepare for danger; for the chronically lonely, the stress hormone cortisol is higher in the morning than in more socially connected people and never fully subsides before sleep.
- It can cause insomnia – Lonely people tend to experience more disruptions during the night, according to “Sleep”, a joint publication of the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Researchers found that the link between disrupted sleep/insomnia and loneliness persisted even after controlling for factors like marital status and family size, suggesting that loneliness depends more on perception versus an objective assessment of their social life. The authors found that even minute changes in their levels of loneliness led to noticeable effects on their sleep patterns.
- It can make dementia more probable – A recent Amsterdam study found that participants who felt lonely (regardless of the number of friends and family they had) were more likely to develop dementia than those who felt less alone. Focusing a test group that was two-thirds women older than 65 years of age, the authors found that feeling lonely raised the risk of dementia by over 60 percent. However, dementia can cause social withdrawal and loneliness in itself, making it unclear which one is the causal factor.
- It can lead to premature death – Two recent studies published by JAMA Internal Medicine have found evidence strongly suggesting that loneliness may increase a person’s risk of premature death. The first study found that participants who were the loneliest also had the highest risk for heart disease, leaving them more likely to die from heart attacks, strokes or other complications than those living with family or friends. The second one examined older men and women, finding that the people who reported feeling lonely or left out were 45 percent more likely to die during the six-year test period regardless of whether they lived alone or communally.
- It can be potentially fatal – According to the findings of a 2011 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on almost 100 adults, chronic loneliness can lead to an over expression of genes connected to cells that produce an inflammatory response to tissue damage. Although that inflammatory response has its benefits in the short term, long-term inflammation can lead to heart disease and even cancer. Like the other studies, only a correlation was found and no initial causal factor, meaning that both gene expression and loneliness most likely cause each other.
Past trauma can lead to antisocial behavior and loneliness, setting the stage for a host of adverse mental and physical effects. At Sovereign Health’s Chandler, Ariz.-based women’s center, we offer a variety of brain wellness techniques to mitigate loneliness and other symptoms of withdrawal in addition to our hallmark of dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders. If you would like more information on our trauma-focused Chandler, Ariz. center or our approach to treating withdrawal symptoms such as loneliness, feel free to browse the rest of our site or contact our helpline listed above.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer