Does poor sleep trigger loneliness and social isolation?
Humans are a social species that are meant to interact and socialise with others. In fact, it is good for your wellbeing. And yet, today more people face isolation and loneliness which are big risk factors for premature death — even more than obesity. People who feel socially isolated and alone also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. They suffer from physical diseases related to stress and experience a compromised immune function. In later life, they are at a greater risk of degenerative dementia. What makes it worse is that when people perceive a person to be lonely, they are likely to disengage from them and the effects of loneliness are compounded. There are various factors associated with loneliness and social isolation and a recent study found that sleep deprivation plays a big role in triggering these antisocial feelings.
To test if sleep-deprived loneliness was contagious, the researchers asked the observers to rate their own loneliness after watching videos of the study participants. The researchers found that the observers felt socially alienated after viewing just a 60-second clip of a lonely person.
To understand how poor sleep affects people socially, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley conducted a series of experiments. For the first one, researchers tested the social and neural responses in 18 healthy young adults after a normal night’s sleep and after a sleepless night. They were then showed a video of a person with a neutral expression walking towards them. When the person on the video got too close, the participants pushed a button to stop the video which recorded how close that person was allowed to get to the participant. The sleep-deprived participants kept the approaching person at a greater distance — between 18 to 60 per cent further back — than when they had been well rested. The brain scans of the participants during video watching revealed heightened activity in a neural circuit called the “near-space network”, which gets activated when the brain perceives a potential incoming human threat. Another brain circuit called the “theory of mind” network, which encourages social interaction, was shut down by sleep deprivation and thus amplifying the situation.
In an online test, more than 1000 observers were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace. They viewed videotapes of study participants discussing commonplace opinions and activities. The observers were unaware that the subjects had been sleep-deprived and rated each of them based on how lonely they appeared and whether they would want to interact socially with them. The observers mostly rated sleep-deprived study participants as lonelier and less socially desirable. To test if sleep-deprived loneliness was contagious, the researchers asked the observers to rate their own loneliness after watching videos of the study participants. The researchers found that the observers felt socially alienated after viewing just a 60-second clip of a lonely person.
In a final test, researchers tracked each participant’s state of loneliness after just one night of good or bad sleep via a survey that asked questions about how isolated the participants felt and if they felt like they had anyone to talk to. The researchers found that the amount of sleep a person got the night before accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they felt.
This study shows just how important it is to get a good night’s sleep, as it makes you more socially confident the next day and attracts others to you.
Source: Nature Communications
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