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Published: 2006-11-14

Having few friends increases risk of disturbed sleep

NEWS Having few people in your social network increases the risk of sleep disturbances, among both men and women, and thereby also heightens the risk of contracting several diseases, according to Maria Nordin in the dissertation she will be defending at Umeå University in Sweden.

Having few friends at the workplace and outside work can make you more susceptible to stress, which in turn can lead to sleep disturbances. What’s more, having few friends can be experienced as stressful in itself.

The dissertation is based on four studies of this phenomenon via three databases, including one on the working populations of northern Sweden. Depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular diseases are examples of disorders that are associated with sleep disruptions.

The relationship between sleep disturbances and having few friends combined with little emotional support differs somewhat between the genders. More women than men who are not sleeping well report that they have few friends around them and experience little emotional support.

Moreover the negative effects of having few friends are greater among women than men. In men, the risk of having difficulty sleeping is tripled if they experience pressure at work and at the same time report that they have had few friends to turn to for a long period of time or that the emotional support at work, that is, confirmation and appreciation, has lessened.

People use various strategies to cope with stress they experience. One "hidden strategy," that is, to back off and not talk back, in a conflict with workmates seems to be able to decrease the risk of sleep disturbances among women.

But women who make us of this strategy and at the same time have few friends around them run nearly four times the risk of experiencing sleep disruptions. Therefore, it seems to be good to have many friends to turn to if you use that type of stress management, probably since you can talk things through and get help coping with stress. The same pattern is seen in men in conflict with workmates and bosses, although the effect is not as great.

Women who have few friends but at the same time apply an ‘open stress management strategy,’ that is, who talk back and argue directly with those they are in conflict with, are protected by that strategy from the negative effects that little network support can have on their sleep.

Disturbed sleep can also ultimately channel the negative effects of having few friends in so serious a disease as a heart attack. This has been observed among women who report that they have few friends and have had a heart attack.


Maria Nordin, tel: +46 (0)90-785 17 03, mobile +46 (0)70-764 43 35 e-mail: maria.nordin@envmed.umu.se
Title: Low Social Support and Disturbed Sleep: Epidemiological and Psychological Perspectives.

Editor: Hans Fällman