Having a bad night's sleep doesn't do anything good for anybody, and it may be even worse than we think. We've all seen and felt how having had too little sleep can disconnect us from our daily lives and turn us into zombies. But it can also affect us socially — and not in a good way.
“We humans are a social species. Yet sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” says Matthew Walker, co-author of a study looking at the social effects of lack of sleep, in a statement. Being tired makes us shy away from human contact and alienates us from others. In the end, it leaves us lonely.
A lack of sleep makes us less interested in social interaction, and what it does to our general attitude and even physical appearance can also drive others away. “The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss,” Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, said. “That vicious cycle may be a significant contributing factor to the public health crisis that is loneliness,” he added. And that's bad for our health.
Brain scans (fMRI) of the 18 showed there were two different forces acting to keep people more socially isolated when they were short on sleep. First, there was stronger activity in a neural circuit known as the Near Space network, which kicks in when the brain sees people approaching when they were sleep-deprived. And second, there was a strong decrease in activity in another brain network after sleep deprivation that encourages social interaction. So their interest in socializing dropped, making the problem worse.
The amount of sleep a person got from one night to the next accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they would feel from one day to the next.
Sleep-deprived people were consistently rated as lonelier and less socially desirable.
The alienation of the sleep-deprived also appears to be contagious, at least in the short-term. When observers rated their own loneliness after they had watched the videos of sleep-deprived people who were not interested in social interaction, they rated themselves as significantly lonelier after watching a video of someone who was sleep-deprived. In fact, the lonelier they rated an individual in a video, the lonelier they felt after viewing that video.
The good news is that when researchers looked at people over two nights and the following two days, with the people sleeping as they chose for those two nights, they found that feelings of loneliness and isolation rose after a person got poorer sleep and fell when they got better sleep. So if you are worried about your social life, make the effort to get more rest. As Walker says, “…[J]ust one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident, and…will attract others to you.”
The amount of sleep a person got from one night to the next accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they would feel from one day to the next.ADVERTISEMENT
The study is published in Nature Communications, which is open access.