Most people experienced some form of social isolation early on in the pandemic. A lack of connection with other humans isn't just isolating-it's terrible for your health. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and more.
If you've ever experienced the thrill of reuniting with friends after a long time away, then you know how important friendship is to life. But did you know that friendship can also support your health and mental well-being? Or that it can even support a good night's rest?
Read on to discover more about the health benefits of friendship.
Friendship refers to trusting, reliable, affectionate social contact between people. A friend is more than an acquaintance. Friends know you and care for you. They're your allies in life.
Mendi Baron, licensed clinical social worker, therapist, and CEO of Nevada-based Moriah Behavioral Health, says healthy friendships provide social and emotional support. He suggests that healthy friendships feel safe, generally positive, and mutually beneficial.
Having good friends is good for you! Here are five ways friendship can support your sleep and health:
Most people know what it's like to feel less stressed after confiding in a friend. In fact, studies have shown that positive friendships reduce stress markers in the body.
"Spending time with friends can lift our moods by releasing dopamine and serotonin," says Shelby Harris, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health for Sleepopolis.
These two neurotransmitters play a key role in your mood and sleep. Dopamine and serotonin both promote relaxation. Harris says serotonin also plays a role in the production of sleep-regulating melatonin.
A 2023 research review found that adult friendships can help protect against depression and anxiety. The reason is simple: Supportive friends help you feel happy, loved, and safe. A supportive community can also help you feel a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
Of course, the benefits of friendship don't stop there. Depression and anxiety can disrupt the body's circadian rhythm, according to Harris. So, protecting against these mood disorders may also protect you from poor sleep.
"If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or sleep problems, it is important to talk to your doctor," Harris reminds.
Remember how friendship can boost serotonin? Well, that's good news if you want to fight illness and infection.
Research shows that healthy serotonin levels can help strengthen your immune system.
"Cortisol is a stress hormone that can disrupt sleep and worsen sleep quality," Harris explains. "If cortisol levels are high before bed, it can make it more difficult to wind down before be [and] fall asleep."
Bottom line? Quality friendships help lower your stress hormone, thus boosting your sleep quality.
Building new friendships as an adult can be complicated. Baron says we tend to carry fears and biases from past relationships. But that doesn't mean quality friendships aren't possible.
"The best way to make a friend is to simply be open," he says. "Reach out, go to places where people congregate, join events or groups …"
Of course, not all friendships are the same. "Ensure that the friendships you are seeking, and the ones that you make, provide a benefit to you, are safe, are mutual, and do not bring you down or hinder you in any fashion," says Baron.
As Harris points out, friendship can boost dopamine and serotonin, often called the "happy chemicals" of the brain. Dopamine gives a temporary sense of pleasure, while serotonin offers a longer-lasting sense of well-being.
The benefits of friendship on mental health are significant. Maintaining close friendships can help relieve stress, improve sleep, and offer protection against anxiety and depression.
Spending time with friends can immediately reduce stress and boost your mood. Long-term mental health improvements could include a general sense of mental well-being and a reduced risk of anxiety and depression.
"One of the most basic human needs is social contact," Baron says. Bottom line: Building and maintaining healthy friendships is critical to your sleep, health, and overall well-being.
This article originally appeared on Saatva and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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