Lack of sleep makes people more selfish and asocial

A recent British study shows that every hour of sleep lost contributes to a decrease in the desire to help others and build social relationships. This study adds to the list of studies that remind us of the importance of sleep in our lives.

Lack of sleep affects ability to help each other

In 2019, a study using MRIs and sleep polygraphs found that sleepless nights can increase people’s anxiety by more than a third. What if sleepless nights also make people more selfish and asocial? According to a study published in the journal PLOS Biology on August 23, 2022, this is indeed the case.

“This is the first study to unequivocally show that lack of sleep directly affects the ability to help each other,” Professor Russell Foster, director of the Institute for the Neurology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms at the University of Oxford (UK) and lead author of the study, told The Guardian daily.

As part of this work, the researchers recruited 160 volunteers to complete a questionnaire. The paper was about altruism from a personal point of view after a night’s sleep. The questions were reminiscent of the situations of people in need of help, and the responses were graded so that volunteers could express the extent to which they could or could not provide assistance. In addition, the researchers subjected participants to comparable tests on different dates to compare responses after a good night’s sleep and after a restless night.

Credits: Riedofranz / iStock

Impact on the social cognitive network of the brain

According to the results, there is an average decrease in altruism by 78% among people who spent a night during which sleep was disturbed or reduced. The researchers then performed brain scans on the volunteers. These studies have shown that sleep deprivation significantly reduces activity in the brain’s social cognitive network, a region of the brain that plays a role in social behavior. Therefore, the researchers argued that lack of sleep reduces the willingness to help others, even if they are friends or family members. Worse still, sleep deprivation can even provoke antisocial behavior.

Researchers have also tried to understand the effects of this phenomenon on a larger scale. Thus, they studied about three million charitable donations made in the United States before and after the last time change (synonymous with sleep loss when it comes to setting the alarm clock forward 60 minutes). However, during the transition period between the two periods, the researchers observed a drop in donations of up to 10%.

For Russell Foster and his team, this work helps to learn about sleep deprivation. Loss of sleep, not only in quantity but also in quality, negatively affects mental and physical well-being, but also changes relationships between people. Finally, you should be aware that this condition is not permanent, as the desire to help others and make social connections returns after a good night’s sleep.

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