Miss a Little Sleep, and We're All About Ourselves

As little as an hour lost can make people less willing to help others, researchers say
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2022 7:20 PM CDT
Sleep Loss Can Make People More Selfish

If a bad night's sleep makes you feel like you're of no use to anyone, there's evidence to back that up. Research suggests that losing as little as one hour of sleep can decrease the desire to help other people, including friends and family, the Guardian reports. "Sleep loss acts as a trigger of asocial behavior, reducing the innate desire of humans to help one another," said professor Matthew Walker, co-author of the University of California, Berkeley, study. "In a way, the less sleep you get, the less social and more selfish you become." The part of the brain that drives social interaction slows down.

One experiment had 24 participants predict how they'd act in various social scenarios, with possible answers ranging from "I would stop to help" to "I would ignore them." Each person was asked after a full night's sleep and after going 24 hours without sleeping. Weariness reduced the participants' willingness to help others by 78%. Brain scans showed they had less activity in the social cognitive brain network, which is tied to social behavior, when tired. The researchers see wide-ranging implications.

"Our study adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that inadequate sleep not only harms the mental and physical wellbeing of an individual but also compromises the bonds between individuals, and even the altruistic sentiment of an entire nation," Walker said. Even a time change made a difference, per Science Daily. The study found that charitable giving fell 10% in the week after Daylight Saving Time began, when most states turn clocks forward and lose an hour. States that don't spring forward showed no decline. As in many other areas of life, the researchers found that the quality of sleep was more important than the quantity. (More sleeplessness stories.)

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