Objective: We examined the mechanisms that underlie the observed relationships between loneliness and depressed mood and poor sleep quality in college students. This study was the first to investigate whether rumination and trait anxiety are psychological mechanisms that mediate this relationship.
Methods: In Study 1 (n = 1,244), using factor analysis with cross-sectional data, we established that loneliness and rumination are distinct constructs. We then collected survey data in two cross-sectional samples (ns = 300 and 218) and one prospective (n = 334) sample to test whether rumination and anxiety were mediators of the relationship between loneliness and depressed mood and poor sleep quality. Structural equation modeling was used to test the proposed relationships. Participants completed self-report measures of loneliness, rumination, trait anxiety, depressed mood, and sleep quality. In addition, measures of hostility, neuroticism, negative affect, and tobacco use were also assessed and tested as mediators, while social support was assessed and tested as a moderator.
Results: Consistent across the three studies, we found that rumination and trait anxiety fully mediated the associations between loneliness and depressed mood as well as poor sleep quality; these relationships held after testing all other factors.
Conclusion: This study helps explain how loneliness dynamics relate to poor health and suggests specific points of departure for the development of interventions.