|Loneliness and Sleep Disturbance in Older Americans
|Year of Publication
|Doctor of Philosophy
|Number of Pages
|Virginia Commonwealth University
|Aging, Clinical Psychology, health, Loneliness, mechanisms, Sleep
Loneliness is a risk factor for premature mortality but the mechanics of this relationship remain obscure. A potential mechanism is sleep disturbance. The present study aimed to examine the association between loneliness and sleep disturbance, evaluate loneliness as a risk factor for sleep disturbance and vice-versa, model effects between loneliness and sleep disturbance over time, and evaluate a mediation model of loneliness, sleep disturbance, and health. Data came from the 2006-2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally-representative study of older Americans; participants > 65 were included (n=11,400). Analyses included (i) linear regressions accounting for complex sampling and (ii) path analysis (cross-lagged panel and mediation models). Loneliness and sleep disturbance were correlated and were risk factors for one another. Cross-lagged panel models showed reciprocal effects between loneliness and sleep disturbance. Cross-lagged mediation models showed that loneliness predicted subsequent sleep disturbance, which in turn predicted poor self-reported health. Moreover, there was evidence of a direct and indirect effect of loneliness on sleep disturbance. All associations were weakened— but remained—when accounting for demographics, isolation, and depression. Collectively, these findings are consistent with the theory that sleep disturbance is a mechanism through which loneliness damages health. However, effects between loneliness and sleep are reciprocal, rather than unidirectional. Moreover, longitudinal effects were very small. Further research is necessary to speak to causality, assess daily associations between loneliness and sleep, assess a comprehensive model of the mechanics of loneliness and health, and examine loneliness and sleep in the context of other factors.