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Could your lack of sleep be to blame for your loneliness?

University of California researcher Matt Walker, Ph.D., found that sleep deprived people feel lonelier and are less likely to engage with others, avoiding close contact, similar to people with social anxiety. Not only that, this situation seems to send out signals to those around a sleep deprived person, making them more socially undesirable to others. People who are well-rested report feeling lonely after just hanging out with someone who is sleep deprived.

The study also looked at the brain activity of those who were sleep deprived while they watched a video of a person walking toward them and saw increased brain activity in areas that seem to light up when a person feels their personal space being violated. It’s a bad cycle; the more sleep deprived you are, the less you want to socially interact, then others also find you socially unattractive.

Loneliness is a HUGE problem in the US. About half of people feel lonely regularly and loneliness has been found to increase mortality by more than 45%. It seems too coincidental that we have seen a spike in people feeling lonely at about the same rate we see them being sleep deprived.

So what can you do about improving your sleep and emotional health?

Step 1: Know your Bedtime and Stick to One Sleep Schedule

Of all the sleep tips you could ever read or hear about, the most important one is to stick to one sleep schedule—every day. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and all of your other bodily functions will go smoother, including your sleep.

Step 2: Eliminate All Caffeine Starting at 2 PM

How can stopping caffeine intake at 2:00 p.m. help someone sleep better? Caffeine has what’s called a “half-life” of about 8 hours, which means that its level is reduced, but still somewhat effective in your system after this time. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it will prevent you from either falling asleep or having good quality sleep.

Step 3: No Alcohol Within 3 Hours of Bedtime

For years sleep researchers have known that alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world. If you look back at the results of the 2005 Sleep in America poll, you will find that 11 percent of those polled used alcohol as a sleep aid at least a few nights a week. Another study conducted in the Detroit area showed that 13 percent of those polled had used alcohol as a sleep aid in the past year. However, the reality is alcohol is not the answer to getting better sleep. While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also does the following to detract from sound sleep:

  1. Keeps you from reaching the deep stages of sleep

  2. Dehydrates you

  3. Awakens you in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom)

Having a few drinks before bedtime will increase your NREM sleep (Stages 1 and 2) and reduce your REM sleep. REM sleep helps you organize and store your memories. Too little REM sleep can be devastating for the brain and body. In addition, REM sleep is the sleep stage where the most calories are burned. Therefore, skip the alcohol if you are trying to lose weight or attain better quality sleep!

Step 4: Stop Exercising 4 Hours Before Bed

Many people who lead sedentary lives and don’t exercise regularly are missing out on an excellent sleep remedy. Data suggest not only that exercising during the day will help you fall asleep more quickly and plunge you into deeper sleep for a longer period of time, but also that exercising causes your body to produce growth hormones, which help it to repair and revitalize itself. Many people report that they sleep better with regular exercise and that they feel more alert and rejuvenated the following day.

Step 5: Give the Sun a “High 5” Every Morning (15 Minutes of Morning Sunlight)

Getting outside in the sun for 15 minutes each morning helps to regulate the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Your internal body clock (the circadian rhythm) runs on a 24-hour schedule and functions best when you are exposed to a regular pattern of light and dark. Malfunctions in your circadian rhythms because of changes in light and dark exposure can negatively impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, unlike our cave-dwelling ancestors who rose with the sun and retired with the moon, most of us let the demands of everyday life dictate the times for sleeping and rising. Millions of people today force their bodies to adjust to artificial sleep schedules, negatively affecting both their sleep and their health.

Original article written by Dr. Michael Breus