Sleep Deprivation Could Make You More Selfish


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Key Takeaways

  • A third of U.S. adults report that they don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
  • A new study found that even losing one hour of sleep might make people less charitable.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to a wide range of physical and mental health problems, and researchers say it can also affect others around us.

Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue, impaired memory, high blood pressure, and more. A new study suggested that a lack of sleep can also make us more selfish and less willing to help others.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted three experiments on the effects of insufficient sleep.

In the first experiment with 24 volunteers, the researchers compared the brain scans of the participants after they had eight hours of sleep and after a night without sleep. They found that a night of sleep deprivation led to reduced activity in the brain’s social cognition network, an area associated with empathy and social behavior.

Another experiment showed that losing just one hour of sleep during Daylight Saving Time could lead to a decrease in charitable giving.

“We’re starting to see more and more studies, including this one, where the effects of sleep loss don’t just stop at the individual, but propagate to those around us,” Eti Ben Simon, PhD, a neuroscientist and a sleep researcher who co-authored the study, said in a press release.

“If you’re not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t just hurt your own well-being, it hurts the well-being of your entire social circle, including strangers,” she said.

At least one in three U.S. adults reported not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the long run, a lack of sleep is linked to many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Sleep deprivation is also associated with anxiety and depression.

“Considering that more than half of all people in developed countries report getting insufficient sleep during the work week, this proposition may warrant greater investigation at a societal level,” said Matt Walker, PhD, a coauthor of the study and a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

How to Get Better Sleep

Ben Simon said that getting enough sleep is “the best form of kindness we can offer ourselves, as well as the people around us.” So how should we make sleep a priority?

To start, how much sleep we need changes as we age. As a general guideline, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Not getting enough sleep can add up to a “sleep debt” that leads to tiredness, poor performance, and low motivation and energy. 

There are some ways to make sure that you’re getting quality sleep—and enough of it. Here are a few sleep hygiene tips for better sleep:

What This Means For You

Getting enough sleep is crucial to maintaining your physical and mental health. New research found that sleep deprivation doesn't only increase the risk of many chronic conditions, but also makes you more selfish.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Simon EB, Vallat R, Rossi A, Walker MP. Sleep loss leads to the withdrawal of human helping across individuals, groups, and large-scale societiesPLOS Biol. 2022;20(8):e3001733. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.3001733

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and sleep disorders.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How much sleep is enough

By Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN
Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN, is a registered nurse with over six years of patient experience. She is a credentialed school nurse in California.