Poor Sleep Makes You Lonely and Socially Isolated

Poor sleep is associated with a wide range of health problems, both mental and physical. From an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases to impaired cognitive function, sleep deprivation affects our bodies significantly. A new research shed light on another effect of it: poor sleep is now linked to social isolation and loneliness.

Image Credit: unsplash.com / @eutahm

A team of UC Berkeley scientists has revealed that sleep deprivation affects a person’s social life significantly, and–which is perhaps even more unexpected–this deprivation-induced loneliness is viral, i.e. it is almost contagious: if you see a person with sleep problems, you are likely to start feeling more lonely too, thus deepening the abyss separating humans.

Loneliness epidemic

Social engagement is something lacked by many people living today. We are hunched over our laptops and smartphones and do not want anyone to come close and invade our personal space, even if it is a person who only wishes to shake your hand.

Loneliness and social isolation have long been known to have an impact on health. It has even been reported to be more detrimental to health than smoking and obesity. That is why the study under discussion is especially important: it highlights the aspect of our lives which is often neglected, namely sleep hygiene.

It is considered a norm to sleep for 7 to 8 hours a day, though these recommendations may vary depending on age, health status, and other factors. In this day and age, most people do not get enough sleep due to having to get up early and hit the sack late at night: we work, study and do our chores without thinking about what consequences such behavior can bring, including cognitive function impairment. As the new study showed, it can be even more important to stick to a health sleeping schedule than it had previously been thought.

Catching the loneliness bug

UC Berkeley scientists gauged the effects of poor sleep by means of a series of experiments, which included fMRI brain imaging, online surveys, experimental simulations, and tests designed to evaluate the degree of loneliness.

They asked 18 healthy adults to watch several videos of people coming close to the camera to simulate approaching the viewer. The participants were to hit the stop button when they started to feel uneasy because of the person getting too close. The experiment was conducted twice: after having a good night’s sleep and after a sleepless night.

The researchers found that sleep-deprived volunteers were more likely to hit the button sooner than those who slept well. The difference was quite significant – 18 to 60%.

Besides, the brain imaging technology enabled the researchers to see that in the brain of the sleep-deprived participants a special area responsible for perceiving potential threats was activated when they saw the video. Also, the area that promotes social interaction was suppressed by lack of sleep, which aggravated the situation.

By asking people online, the researchers also found that sleep-deprived people appeared to be “less socially desirable” as these participants looked lonelier (these Internet-based participants did not know who of the experiment participants slept well and who did not). The cherry on the pie was to reveal that watching videos of sleep-deprived people even made the viewers feel lonelier, so this vibe is somewhat contagious. Yes, this feeling is subjective, especially if you are asked about it in the course of a survey, but still.

The study findings highlight the need for better awareness of the importance of sleep quality.

To improve your quality of sleep, you can follow the advice given by the National Sleep Foundation. Remember: sleep deprivation is not as harmless as it may seem to be, and sacrificing your health, which could otherwise be used to do good and take care of others, to the process of climbing up the career ladder does not sound reasonable, as your top position will be of little use when you are no longer capable of doing anything yourself.

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