Sleeplessness makes us less generous: study

Medical research has long suggested that sleeplessness can be bad for our physical health. But, a small study from the University of California, Berkeley, has found that it can also impair our social conscience.

Published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology, the research looked into three studies that examined how sleep loss affected people’s altruism and found that limited sleep led to less empathy, volunteering and donations.

“Over the past 20 years, we have discovered a very intimate link between our sleep health and our mental health. Indeed, we’ve not been able to discover a single major psychiatric condition in which sleep is normal,” Matthew Walker, the study’s co-author, said in a release.

“But this new work demonstrates that a lack of sleep not only damages the health of an individual, but degrades social interactions between individuals and, furthermore, degrades the very fabric of human society itself. How we operate as a social species – and we are a social species – seems profoundly dependent on how much sleep we are getting.”

The report’s first study looked into the brains of 24 healthy volunteers using a functional magnetic resonance imager after eight hours of sleep and following a night without any sleep.

Researchers discovered that after a restless night, some brain regions that make up the theory of mind network – which are active when people try to comprehend the wants and needs of others or sympathize with others – were less active.

“When we think about other people, this network engages and allows us to comprehend what other persons’ needs are: What are they thinking about? Are they in pain? Do they need help?” Ben Simon, the study’s lead author, said in the release.

“However, this network was markedly impaired when individuals were sleep deprived. It’s as though these parts of the brain fail to respond when we are trying to interact with other people after not getting enough sleep.”

The second study monitored more than 100 individuals online for three or four nights. Researchers measured the participants’ sleep quality by counting how long they slept and how often they woke up.

It was discovered that a person’s declined sleep quality over time correlated significantly with their propensity to want to assist others the next day. Activities impacted could include volunteering, offering to hold the elevator for someone or even helping an injured stranger on the street.

In the final study, three million charity gifts made in the US between 2001 and 2016 were analyzed from a database to see if the introduction of daylight saving time, leading to a possible loss of an hour of sleep, affected donations.

The research found that in areas of the country that did not change their clocks, a decline in charitable gift-giving was not seen as opposed to the areas that did.

The study’s researchers say that more than half of adults in developed nations don’t get enough sleep throughout the work week.

“It is time as a society to abandon the idea that sleep is unnecessary or a waste and, without feeling embarrassed, start getting the sleep that we need,” Simon said.

“It is the best form of kindness we can offer ourselves, as well as the people around us.”