TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Loneliness can be harmful to a person's sleep and health, according to a new study.

Researchers examined levels of loneliness and sleep quality among 95 adults in rural South Dakota. None of the participants was socially isolated, but those who had higher loneliness scores due to perceived feelings of being "alone" woke much more often during the night and were deemed to have what the study authors called fragmented sleep.

There was no connection between loneliness and total amount of sleep or levels of daytime sleepiness, the investigators noted.

The findings, published in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Sleep, suggest that fragmented sleep may be one of a number of ways that loneliness can harm health, according to the researchers.

"Loneliness has been associated with adverse effects on health," lead author Lianne Kurina, of the department of health studies at the University of Chicago, said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"We wanted to explore one potential pathway for this, the theory that sleep -- a key behavior to staying healthy -- could be compromised by feelings of loneliness. What we found was that loneliness does not appear to change the total amount of sleep in individuals, but awakens them more times during the night," Kurina explained.

"Whether you're a young student at a major university or an older adult living in a rural community, we may all be dependent on feeling secure in our social environment in order to sleep soundly," she added.

This type of research may improve "understanding of how social and psychological factors 'get under the skin' and affect health," Kurina added.

More information

The University of Calgary has more about loneliness.