Sleep-Deprived People May Infect You With Loneliness
Not getting enough or the right kind of sleep is notoriously bad for physical health. But a new study out of the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others.
We already know that poor sleep quality is linked to negative experiences like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Many of the studies exploring this connection have suggested loneliness worsens our sleeping habits. But there’s been less research on whether the opposite is true. So the scientists behind this latest study decided to perform a series of experiments, using both offline and online human volunteers, to find out.
First, they recruited 18 healthy college students who were screened for any sleeping problems. The volunteers were asked to come by the sleep lab for two sessions, the order of which was randomized. In one session, they arrived at the lab and had electrodes attached to measure their sleep activity, then were sent home to sleep as normally as they could. In the other session, they instead stayed the night at the lab, and were monitored to make sure they didn’t sleep at all.
In either session, the next morning at the lab, volunteers filled out surveys about their mood and and anxiety. They also completed two similar types of tasks, meant to measure their preferred level of social interaction. Afterward, the volunteers were interviewed on film about current events for about 20 minutes.
In one task, the volunteer and experimenter stood three feet apart, facing each other. The experimenter then walked toward the volunteer until they were close enough to make the volunteer feel uncomfortable; the task was then reversed, with the volunteer walking towards the experimenter. Both scenarios were then repeated with an experimenter of the opposite gender. In the second task, the routine was repeated, but virtually. While the volunteers had their brains scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging, they watched videos of both computerized people and objects steadily approaching them. They were asked to signal when exactly they felt unnerved by the ever-nearing avatar.
Across both the real and virtual tasks, the researchers found, people’s desire for personal space increased when they hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. They also reported feeling lonelier than they did after a full night’s sleep.