You may think that going to sleep will keep you from missing social opportunities, but new research says otherwise. In fact, poor sleep can literally kill your social life.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and less inclined to engage with others, avoiding close contact in much the same way as people with social anxiety. Worse still, that alienating vibe makes sleep-deprived individuals more socially unattractive to others. Finally, well-rested people feel lonely after just a brief encounter with a sleep-deprived person, potentially triggering a viral contagion of social isolation.
The findings are the first to show a two-way relationship between sleep loss and becoming socially isolated, shedding new light on a global loneliness epidemic.
“We humans are a social species. Yet sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.
Notably, researchers found that brain scans of sleep-deprived people as they viewed video clips of strangers walking toward them showed powerful social repulsion activity in neural networks that are typically activated when humans feel their personal space is being invaded. Sleep loss also blunted activity in brain regions that normally encourage social engagement.
“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 added. “That vicious cycle may be a significant contributing factor to the public health crisis that is loneliness.”
National surveys suggest that nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely or left out. Furthermore, loneliness has been found to increase one’s risk of mortality by more than 45 percent – double the mortality risk associated with obesity.
“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 study lead author Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in Walker’s Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley. “Without sufficient sleep we become a social turn-off, and loneliness soon kicks in.”