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Sleeping with one eye open: loneliness and sleep quality in young adults

  • T. Matthews (a1), A. Danese (a1) (a2) (a3), A. M. Gregory (a4), A. Caspi (a1) (a5), T. E. Moffitt (a1) (a5) and L. Arseneault (a1)...

Feelings of loneliness are common among young adults, and are hypothesized to impair the quality of sleep. In the present study, we tested associations between loneliness and sleep quality in a nationally representative sample of young adults. Further, based on the hypothesis that sleep problems in lonely individuals are driven by increased vigilance for threat, we tested whether past exposure to violence exacerbated this association.


Data were drawn from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a birth cohort of 2232 twins born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995. We measured loneliness using items from the UCLA Loneliness Scale, and sleep quality using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. We controlled for covariates including social isolation, psychopathology, employment status and being a parent of an infant. We examined twin differences to control for unmeasured genetic and family environment factors.


Feelings of loneliness were associated with worse overall sleep quality. Loneliness was associated specifically with subjective sleep quality and daytime dysfunction. These associations were robust to controls for covariates. Among monozygotic twins, within-twin pair differences in loneliness were significantly associated with within-pair differences in sleep quality, indicating an association independent of unmeasured familial influences. The association between loneliness and sleep quality was exacerbated among individuals exposed to violence victimization in adolescence or maltreatment in childhood.


Loneliness is robustly associated with poorer sleep quality in young people, underscoring the importance of early interventions to mitigate the long-term outcomes of loneliness. Special care should be directed towards individuals who have experienced victimization.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: L. Arseneault, MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:
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