Sleep is one of the fundamental pillars of civilization, and this study reveals just how important it really is.
We have all been there before- burning the midnight oil to get ahead on a project at work or finishing an essay for school. Moreover, while we may not enjoy the process, we always justified our sleepless nights by saying it was for the greater good. We were productive citizens, after all. Nevertheless, a new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that our lack of sleep may be linked to selfish behavior. The University of Berkley research found that people who got less than six hours of sleep per night were likelier to engage in self-serving behavior than those who got a whole night’s rest. So what does this mean for us? Should we all start getting more sleep? Or is there something else we can do to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation? Read the entire article to know more about this new research.
Lack of sleep negatively impacts our health in several ways, but new research shows that it can also impair our treatment of others. For example, lack of sleep has been associated with: an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, and hypertension, as well as mortality. The new study is critical because it shows that people who slept less than six hours a day were more likely to be selfish. The research looked at how sleep deprivation affects people’s ability to cooperate with others.
Sleep Deprivation dampens theory of mind network
A new study by Eti Ben Simon, a researcher at UC Berkeley, demonstrates that an individual’s psychological and physical health suffers when they do not get enough sleep. The study also found that a country’s entire culture can suffer because of a lack of sleep. The findings suggest that sleep deprivation can lead to “a basic form of selfishness.”
The study’s lead author, Dr. Walker said that the findings suggest that “a lack of sleep makes us more self-centred.” He added that the findings could have implications for public policy, as “our current societal norms around sleep are completely incompatible with what we now know about its importance for our health and well-being.”
“Over the last 20 years, we have noticed the link between sleep and mental health,” Walker said. “Indeed, we have not yet found a single massive psychiatric condition in which sleep is normal.” However, this new research demonstrates that poor sleep harms an individual’s health and social interactions with others. In addition, it appears that it can even damage the fabric of human society itself. As a social species that heavily relies on cooperation, it seems that how much sleep we get is imperative to our survival moving forward.
“We are starting to see more and more studies that show, including this one, that the effects of sleep loss can reach people other than just the individual,” said Ben Simon. “If you are not getting enough sleep, it affects not only your well-being but also the well-being of those closest to you, including strangers.”
People with insomnia suffer from a decreased ability to understand what others are thinking.
This report offers three studies examining the impacts of sleep loss on a person’s ability to empathise with others. In one of the studies, healthy participants sat in an MRI machine and had their brains scanned after an eight-hour sleep and again after not getting any shut-eye. The scientists found that when the volunteers cannot get some shut-eye, areas of the brain that form our theory of mind network – engaged when we try to understand other people’s wants or needs – become less active.
“When we think of other people, this network engages so that we can comprehend their needs. We can see things through their eyes and imagine what they are thinking. When these networks are impaired, it becomes hard for us to interact with other people as easily.” Ben Simon states in his study about sleep deprivation. “It is like our brains do not know how to respond when it is time to act on feelings and thoughts created from the social connection.”
To measure the relationship between sleep duration and helping others, researchers first tracked more than 100 people as they slept over 3 to 4 nights. They assessed the quality of each person’s sleep based on how long they slept and how many times they woke up. The researchers also assessed the degree to which participants desired to help others during their waking hours—things like holding an elevator door open for someone else, helping someone with their work, volunteering, or helping an injured person on the street.
Ben Simon, who just completed the research, said that after a night of sleep on their first day and a night of poor sleep on their second night, subjects reported being less willing to help others from one day to the next.
Toward the end of the study, researchers mined a database of 3 million charitable donations in the United States between 2001 and 2016. Did the number of donations change after the transition to Daylight Saving Time and the potential loss of an hour of sleep? They found that donations dropped by 10%. This drop in giving was not present in regions that remained on standard time.
Just one hour of sleep deprivation can have a measurable impact on people’s generosity. Walker adds, “When people lose one hour of sleep, there is a clear hit on our innate human kindness and motivation to help others in need.”
A study by Walker and Ben Simon showed that sleep-deprived individuals withdrew and became more socially isolated. Walker said they also swayed the feelings of their contacts much like a virus.
“Looking at the big picture, it is becoming clear that sleep deprivation has serious consequences for social behaviour,” he said. “People are less empathetic, more selfish, withdrawn from others, and there is contagious loneliness. “
This new finding offers a possible solution to improving aspects of society that have historically been difficult.
Ben Simon believes that promoting sleep, rather than shaming people for sleeping too much, could affect the social bonds we all experience daily.
“Sleep, it turns out, is a powerful lubricant for productive, connected, compassionate and generous human behavior,” states Walker. “In these divisive times, if there was ever a need for a strong emulsion to help people work together more effectively, then perhaps sleep is what we need.”
“Sleep is essential for all aspects of our physical, mental, and emotional lives,” Ben Simon said. “When sleep is undervalued in society, we get sleep-deprived doctors, nurses, and students and less empathic interactions.”
Insufficient sleep is a problem worldwide, but it seems to be an especially big issue in developed countries. More than half of the people surveyed reported not getting enough sleep during the work week.
“I think it is time we stop seeing sleep as unnecessary or a waste of time and start getting the sleep we need,” she added. “It is the best thing we can do for ourselves and everyone around us.”
Not getting enough sleep can lead to physical and mental problems. However, new research suggests that it can also make you more selfish. So if you want to be more altruistic, make sure you get plenty of shut-eye.