Are you lonely? Can it be affecting your heart health? New research into loneliness and sleep patterns would say yes. The new study, published in the next issue of the journal Sleep, found statistical evidence pointing to an association between feelings of loneliness and a lack of sleep. This lack of sleep, as physicians have known for quite some time, places these lonely individuals into a high risk category for heart disease and depression.
“Feelings of Loneliness”
According to Time.com, ‘feelings of loneliness’ and of social isolation don’t necessarily mean that the individual is actually isolated from society.
Some people live in a vibrantly social community, have a large a family and boatloads of “likes” on Facebook and still feel socially isolated. Other people may live in a lighthouse in Lapland and not experience a moment of loneliness. As the study clinically yet poignantly defines it, loneliness is “the painful experience that accompanies a discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.”
In the study, individuals who felt isolated had a less restful night of sleep. Even while the “lonely” group said they seemed to sleep fine, the wrist actigraphs that recorded movement during sleep said otherwise. The “lonely” individuals experienced “significantly more sleep fragmentation than did those who reported more connection to others.”
Loneliness and Heart Disease
Ever had your heart broken by a friend or family member? It’s just a saying, right? Well, perhaps not. The sleep study mentioned above, combined with many heart studies identifying certain emotions associated with health risks, have proven over the years that old saying might be true; someone can truly break your heart…or at least put you at greater risk for heart disease.
According to some studies, the risk of social isolation and a feeling of loneliness are comparable to the risks posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even smoking. Perhaps it’s the fact that those who are lonely are more likely to drink, smoke, exercise less, and eat poorly. Perhaps it’s those factors combined with the sleep study results that show loneliness leads to poor sleep habits.
What we call loneliness—the feeling that you have no one to turn to, that no one understands you—is a form of stress. And if it becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your blood vessels and heart. (Health.com)
Studies have shown that the body and mind of those who feel lonelier are constantly on high alert for potential threats at a social level. This being said, in response to increased stress the body produces more cortisol, a hormone released to respond to stress. The chronic stress and release of cortisol into the body ironically has the opposite effect of what cortisol is naturally supposed to do.
Cortisol is made to help the body cope with stress. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory that activates white blood cells, which in turn go to combat inflammation. This is how it’s supposed to work in healthy individuals with proper immune function. However, in individuals who feel lonely, the chronic release of cortisol desensitizes the body so that the white blood cells do not respond properly and do not fight inflammation as they should.
Ultimately (long story short) when the white blood cells become desensitized to cortisol and do not fight inflammation, atheroschlerosis (hardening of the arteries) can occur, putting lonely individuals at a higher risk for heart disease.
For tips on heart healthy solutions to loneliness, stay tuned. For heart healthy nutritional alternatives with arginine and citrulline, contact us about Cardio Juvenate!