Don’t become a social leper: Just get a good night’s sleep
Scientists find that sleep deprivation not only makes you tired, it also makes you lonely
Sleep deprivation not only makes you tired. It also makes you lonely. People who haven’t slept enough are less likely to engage with others, which makes them lonelier and socially unattractive, a new US study find.
“We humans are a social species. Yet sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” said senior author Professor Matthew Walker, from the psychology and neuroscience department of the University of California Berkeley.
This vicious cycle is contagious: even rested people who interact with sleep-deprived people feel alienated after a brief encounter. Inadequate sleep therefore triggers social anxiety and “viral loneliness”, the researchers from the University of California suggest.
This is the first study to show a “two-way relationship between sleep loss and becoming socially isolated”, they said of the results, published in Nature Communications on Tuesday.Brain scans of sleep-deprived people in the experiment revealed that their social repulsion neural networks were activated when they watched strangers approaching them. These are the circuits activated when people perceive threats, including the invasion of their personal space.
The volunteers’ social engagement regions were blunted compared to well-rested individuals and they would avoid close contact, not unlike people with social anxiety.
Walker said: “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.”
Dr Dale Rae, director of Sleep Science at the Sports Science Institute of SA, said clients who come to the centre after sleep deprivation often complain about worse mood states including being edgy, blue, lethargic and more grumpy.
“There is plenty of evidence to show that mental and cognitive performance is worsened by sleep deprivation, and physical performance too but to a lesser degree,” the UCT scientist said.
US surveys show that “nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely or left out”. Loneliness increases the risk of death by more than 45%, twice that of obesity, research has proved."It’s perhaps no coincidence that the past few decades have seen a marked increase in loneliness and an equally dramatic decrease in sleep duration,” said lead author Dr Eti Ben Simon, based at UC Berkeley Walker’s Centre for Human Sleep Science.
In their experiments, the scientists looked at whether a single night of good or bad sleep could influence a person’s sense of loneliness the next day and found it did.
“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,” said Walker, recommending people sleep seven to nine hours sleep a night.
“Just one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident, and furthermore, will attract others to you,” he said.