If you're a self-described introvert, you don't need a scientific study to tell you that you benefit from spending a good chunk of your day alone. For some of us, it's patently obvious that our sanity depends on a regular dose of solitude.

But extroverts are different, right?

These are the folks who get fired up by huge conferences, loud parties, and lots of socializing. Everyone needs to wind down a bit, of course, but according to the popular imagination, extroverts can get by with a minimal dose of alone time.

Except maybe the popular imagination is wrong. When the BBC partnered with a team of academic researchers recently to investigate how and how much people rest using an online survey of more than 18,000 people, they discovered that it's not just introverts who benefit from getting away from everyone.

Extroverts need solitude too.

When asked to rate the most restful activities for the survey, respondents offered activities that were exclusively or primarily solitary, such as reading, being in nature, being on their own, listening to music, and doing nothing in particular.

And perhaps more surprisingly, these solitary activities were as popular with self-described extroverts as they were with introverts. What's more, a large majority of respondents (68 percent) said they could use more rest.

"The analysis team was struck by the observation that a significant number of the top ten restful activities chosen by participants are often carried out alone," noted the researchers. "It's also not just introverts who rate being alone as a restful activity. Extroverts also value time spent alone, and voted this pastime as more restful than being in the company of other people."

On blurred lines and the benefits of alone time

There are a couple of interesting things to note about these results. First, they bolster the case, already made by several experts, that the differences between extroverts and introverts are often overblown. Not only do most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but our level of introversion and extraversion is more dependent on circumstance and life stage than many of us realize. Even if you were once a hardcore introvert, it's entirely possible to evolve into an extrovert, or vice versa. The lines between the two are blurrier than a lot of people think.

The second noteworthy takeaway here is just how essential alone time is to our mental health. Earlier science suggests that we need solitude to discover ourselves, practice and gain mastery, and come up with our most original ideas. That's the case no matter your personality type, and even if your own outgoing impulses sometimes push you to socialize more than is really ideal.

The bottom line of this survey then might be rather simple: consider scheduling more solitude into your day, no matter your personality type. You're likely to feel more rested and reap a host of psychological benefits.

Could you use more alone time in your life?

Published on: Oct 6, 2016
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