Humans help each other — it’s one of the foundations of civilized society. But a new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, reveals that a lack of sleep blunts this fundamental human attribute, with real-world consequences.
Lack of sleep is known to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, hypertension and overall mortality. However, these new discoveries show that a lack of sleep also impairs our basic social conscience, making us withdraw our desire and willingness to help other people.
In one portion of the new study, the scientists showed that charitable giving in the week after the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, when residents of most states “spring forward” and lose one hour of their day, dropped by 10% — a decrease not seen in states that do not change their clocks or when states return to standard time in the fall.
The study, led by UC Berkeley research scientist Eti Ben Simon and Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that inadequate sleep not only harms the mental and physical well-being of an individual, but also compromises the bonds between individuals — and even the altruistic sentiment of an entire nation.
“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,” Walker said. “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.”
“We’re starting to see more and more studies, including this one, where the effects of sleep loss don’t just stop at the individual, but propagate to those around us,” said Ben Simon. “If you’re not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t just hurt your own well-being, it hurts the well-being of your entire social circle, including strangers.”
Ben Simon, Walker and colleagues Raphael Vallat and Aubrey Rossi will publish their results August 23 in the open access journal PLOS Biology. Walker is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. He and Ben Simon are members of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley.
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