When Ebenezer Scrooge woke up on Christmas Day after a troubled dream, he realized that he had to give up his avarice.
Unfortunately, the same is unlikely to happen to us, according to research that shows that sleepless nights make us more selfish.
A study conducted by researchers in the US found that losing just one hour of rest can kill people’s desire to help others, even relatives and close friends. The team noted that a bad night seemed to dampen the activity of the part of the brain that encourages social behavior.
“We found that sleep loss acts as a trigger for antisocial behavior by reducing people’s innate desire to help each other,” said study co-author Professor Matthew Walker from the University of California, Berkeley. “In a sense, the less you sleep, the less social and more selfish you become.”
Writing in the journal PLoS Biology, the team suggests that chronic sleep deprivation can damage social bonds and compromise the altruistic instincts that shape societies. “Given the importance of humans helping to maintain cooperative civilized societies, along with the drastic reduction in sleep time over the past 50 years, the implications of these findings are very important for how we shape the societies we want to live in,” Walker said.
The team studied the willingness of 160 participants to help others with an “altruism questionnaire” they completed after a night’s sleep. Participants responded to various social scenarios on a scale ranging from “I would stop to help” to “I would ignore them.”
In one experiment involving 24 participants, researchers compared the responses of one person after a good night’s sleep and after 24 hours without sleep. The results showed a 78% decrease in willingness to help others when they are tired.
The team then scanned the brains of these participants and found that the short night was associated with reduced activity in the brain’s social cognitive network, an area involved in social behavior.
According to the researchers, participants were reluctant to help friends and family, as well as strangers. “Sleep deprivation worsened the desire to help others, whether they were asked to help strangers or close relatives. This means that sleep loss causes antisocial, anti-helping behaviors with broad and indiscriminate effects,” Walker said.
To determine whether altruism was affected in the real world, the team tracked more than 3 million charitable donations in the US before and after the clocks were moved forward an hour for daylight saving time, which suggests shorter periods of sleep. They found a 10% drop in donations after the switch.
“Our study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that not only is insufficient sleep detrimental to an individual’s mental and physical well-being, it also compromises the bonds between people and even the altruistic sentiment of an entire nation,” Walker said.
Fortunately, we can catch up. Walker said: “The positive note that emerges from all of our research is that once sleep is adequate and sufficient, the desire to help others is restored. But it is important to note that not only the duration of sleep is important for help. We found that the most important factor was the quality of sleep, apart from its quantity,” he added.
Professor Russell Foster, director of the Institute of Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the research, said: “This is the first study to show unequivocally that sleep loss can reduce people’s tendency to help each other. .
“These findings have serious implications for all levels of society, but especially for our night shift, frontline staff,” he said. “Doctors, nurses and police are often chronically fatigued, and the results show that their ability to help in difficult and challenging circumstances can be compromised.”