The effects of long-term loneliness and isolation

Updated April 17, 2017

The effects of loneliness are insignificant when a person is young, but long-term exposure can have negative emotional and physical effects, according to University of Chicago psychologists Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo. The effects of loneliness are cited by the researchers to be comparable to high blood pressure, which can be more drastic after long-term exposure.


Middle-aged lonely people said they have chronic stress even though they reported the same number of general stressful events in their lives as non-lonely people, the University of Chicago study found. These could include traumatic experiences or the effects of a dysfunctional family. During each of the stressful events, the lonely people in the study appeared to be more threatened and helpless from the basic challenges of daily life and the people in it. When they were stressed, they were less likely to seek help to try to get them out of their stressed state.


Lonely people have poorer quality of sleep, according to the University of Chicago. Though both lonely and social people received the same number of hours of sleep, the lonely people experienced "micro awakenings," which were one or two seconds of waking up before falling back to sleep. This damaged the quality of sleep and their alertness when they were awake. As sleep normally deteriorates with age, the added disturbance from long-term loneliness becomes a major hindrance among the older demographic.

Social Behavior

Long-term loneliness can cause people to drop out of school because they are unable to socialise. Some people, however, are fine with being alone, the University of Chicago noted. People treat long-term isolation as a path for spiritual growth. Despite this benefit that some personality types can find in long-term isolation, a Rene Spitz study in the 1940s claimed that social interaction at infancy is important for development. Infant motor and intellectual performances suffered after long-term isolation and the infants developed social behavioural disorders.


Loneliness and isolation can cause people to shut off their emotions, they can`t empathise and they find it difficult to communicate feelings. They feel dissatisfied, according to an article in "Psychology Today." Lonely people have the idea that there is something wrong with them because they aren't social, and this plays through their mind and furthers this dissatisfaction. Loneliness in adults can make them depressed and lead to alcohol addiction. This depression can lead to an increase in suicide.

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About the Author

Phillip Chappell has been a professional writer in Canada since 2008. He began his work as a freelancer for "Senior Living Magazine" before being hired at the "Merritt News" in British Columbia, where he wrote mostly about civic affairs. He is a temporary reporter for the "Rocky Mountain Outlook." Chappell holds a Bachelor of Journalism in computer programming from University College of the Cariboo.