A new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, has revealed that a lack of sleep blunts the helping nature of humans 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 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 percent, 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 Mr. Eti Ben Simon and Mr. 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. 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.”
The new report describes three separate studies that assessed the impact of sleep loss on people’s willingness to help others. In the first study, the scientists placed 24 healthy volunteers in a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI) to scan their brains after eight hours of sleep and after a night of no sleep.
They found that areas of the brain that form the theory of mind network, which is engaged when people empathize with others or try to understand other people’s wants and needs, were less active after a sleepless night.
In a second study, they tracked more than 100 people online over three or four nights. During this time, the researchers measured the quality of their sleep, how long they slept, how many times they woke up, and then assessed their desire to help others, such as holding an elevator door open for someone else, volunteering or helping an injured stranger on the street.
The third part of the study involved mining a database of 3 million charitable donations in the US between 2001 and 2016. They examined questions like, did the number of donations change after the transition to Daylight Saving Time and the potential loss of an hour of sleep? They found a 10 percent drop in donations. This same dent in compassionate gift-giving was not seen in regions of the country that did not change their clocks.