7 Curiosities About Loneliness

Loneliness is a phenomenon that is highly prevalent today. We'll take a look at 7 curiosities about it.
7 Curiosities About Loneliness
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Reviewed and approved by la psicóloga Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 15 June, 2023

Loneliness is considered to be a public health problem these nowadays. However, our current social dynamics actually seems to encourage it. Remote work, online shopping, social media, and many more things “help” to cut off people who are already predisposed to being lonely. Since it’s a misunderstood phenomenon in people today, we’re going to take a look at 7 curiosities about loneliness.

Experts divide loneliness into two types: emotional loneliness and social loneliness. The first refers to the absence of an attachment figure; the second to the absence of a social circle. You can still develop loneliness even if you have an attachment figure and a social circle, as factors such as reciprocity, a sense of belonging, company, and others come into play.

7 curiosities about loneliness

Although they have traditionally been considered synonymous, loneliness is very different from social isolation. A person can deal with it for years without actually socially isolating, a characteristic that makes it difficult for those around them to detect. We could say many things about it, but we leave you with 7 curiosities about loneliness that you probably didn’t know about.

1. Loneliness is contagious

Trivia about loneliness include that it's contagious
Suffering from loneliness can affect close people, even if there’s no evidence of a direct relationship.

A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009 found that loneliness is highly contagious. It doesn’t manifest individually, but does so in clusters and up to 3 degrees of separation.

According to the cited study, friends, especially women, are more likely to “catch” loneliness when they interact with a lonely person (rather than colleagues and family).

2. It’s associated with an increased risk of mortality

A meta-analysis published in PLOS Medicine in 2010 suggested that the odds ratio for increased mortality from loneliness is 1.45. In order to understand this, it’s twice the risk of death from obesity and four times the risk from exposure to air pollution. This is due to all the factors that come into play when carrying out solitary behavior.

For example, the commitment to a sedentary lifestyle, the decrease in physical activity, the increased risk of developing stress, anxiety, and depression, and the inconvenience in accessing help at critical or certain moments. The evidence points to older adults as the main people at risk.

3. It can be a risk for dementia

Experts have pointed to loneliness as a risk factor for dementia for decades. This is one of the most important modifiable factors, as it can lead to developing Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions. The association is so strong that it may even be independent of other genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

4. Compromise your immune system

A report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2019 classified loneliness as an “immunometabolic syndrome”. This is due to alterations in the immune and metabolic system that are triggered in response to it. Among many other things, it’s capable of affecting the following:

  • The antibody response against viruses and vaccines
  • The normal functioning of immune cells
  • The process of glycemic control in the blood
  • Lipid metabolism
  • Body composition
  • Inflammatory cytokine levels
  • Growth factors
  • Cardiovascular function

5. Disrupt your sleep patterns

There’s evidence that loneliness is a risk factor for the development of sleep disorders. The theory behind it states that, in order to sleep peacefully, human beings need a safe and quiet social environment.

This is an evolutionary trait, and one that manifests itself in situations of social isolation. Not surprisingly, studies regarding insomnia show worse results for those who are unemployed and those who live alone.

6. Loneliness affects your appetite

Curiosities about loneliness include food.
Eating patterns can change in people who are constantly alone.

Recent research has suggested that loneliness can cause a decreased appetite. Solitary people tend to eat alone, and, in these contexts, they tend to eat a smaller proportion of food than non-solitary people.

It’s important to understand the social dynamics behind eating, particularly when it’s done in a group. Lonely people also eat out less often and eat less healthy diets.

7. It can be a prolonged experience

All people deal with loneliness at different times in their lives. Most of them manage to recover, so it’s a transitory experience.

However, according to the researchers, for other people the mechanism that leads to social or emotional “reconnection” is altered in the process, resulting in prolonged loneliness (even in the absence of the catalyst that motivated it; for example, being single or not having a job).

Loneliness is a very complex experience, one that also has many different repercussions on physical and emotional health. Being aware of the curiosities about loneliness is useful in order to understand its scope and consequences. If you are dealing with it at the moment, then connecting with support groups and seeking psychological help can be of great help.

  • Allaert FA, Urbinelli R. Sociodemographic profile of insomniac patients across national surveys. CNS Drugs. 2004;18 Suppl 1:3-7; discussion 41, 43-5.
  • Cacioppo JT, Fowler JH, Christakis NA. Alone in the crowd: the structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Dec;97(6):977-91.
  • Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 2010 Jul 27;7(7):e1000316.
  • Kurina LM, Knutson KL, Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT, Lauderdale DS, Ober C. Loneliness is associated with sleep fragmentation in a communal society. Sleep. 2011 Nov 1;34(11):1519-26.
  • Mikami Y, Motokawa K, Shirobe M, Edahiro A, Ohara Y, Iwasaki M, Hayakawa M, Watanabe Y, Inagaki H, Kim H, Shinkai S, Awata S, Hirano H. Relationship between Eating Alone and Poor Appetite Using the Simplified Nutritional Appetite Questionnaire. Nutrients. 2022 Jan 14;14(2):337.
  • Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in older persons: a predictor of functional decline and death. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Jul 23;172(14):1078-83.
  • Pourriyahi H, Yazdanpanah N, Saghazadeh A, Rezaei N. Loneliness: An Immunometabolic Syndrome. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 19;18(22):12162.
  • Qualter, P., Vanhalst, J., Harris, R., Van Roekel, E., Lodder, G., Bangee, M., … & Verhagen, M. Loneliness across the life span. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2015; 10(2): 250-264.
  • Sutin AR, Stephan Y, Luchetti M, Terracciano A. Loneliness and Risk of Dementia. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Aug 13;75(7):1414-1422.
  • Yanguas J, Pinazo-Henandis S, Tarazona-Santabalbina FJ. The complexity of loneliness. Acta Biomed. 2018 Jun 7;89(2):302-314.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.