We all know that not getting enough sleep can make you cranky AF, but a new study published this month has found being sleep deprived was linked to loneliness. According to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, sleep loss makes people less likely to socialize. And when they do try to socialize, they come off as less "socially attractive" to other people, creating a cycle of social isolation and loneliness. That loneliness rubs off on other people, creating a vicious cycle of loneliness. Just, woah.
Researchers told ABC News that the study was small, consisting of 18 sleep-study participants and 1,000 online participants. The researchers studied the social and neural responses of the sleep-study participants after a night of good sleep and after a sleepless night. They also interviewed the online participants to gather their feedback on the sleep-study participants after both the restful and sleepless nights.
According to LiveScience, the study found that when people haven’t gotten enough sleep, they start to feel lonely and are more likely to isolate themselves from other people. Well-rested people pick up on their loneliness and start to feel that loneliness themselves. LiveScience said researchers suggested there may even be a “viral contagion of social isolation” linked to sleep loss.
OK, that’s super sterile language for something really sad. Let’s break this down: We’re a nation of overworked, overtired people. We’re simply not getting enough sleep. According to Forbes, the Centers for Disease Control declared sleep deprivation a public health epidemic just four years ago. Today, the National Sleep Foundation says only 10 percent of Americans are prioritizing sleep over everything else in their lives. The latest Gallup survey says Americans are only getting 6.8 hours of sleep a night. "Mother nature took millions of years to perfect our sleep and we just shaved off over an hour to fit our lifestyle," Dr. Matt Walker, founder and director of Center for Human Sleep Science at University of California-Berkeley and lead author of the study told ABC News.
And our not sleeping is affecting our emotional health. We’re feeling lonely, but the effects of sleep deprivation, according to researchers, are causing us to do the opposite of what will make us feel better: becoming isolating. Our friends, families, and coworkers are seeing how exhausted we are, but even though they love and care about us, this lonely, cranky vibe we’re giving off is turning them away from us at a time when we need them the most.
"It's perhaps no coincidence that the past few decades have seen a marked increase in loneliness and an equally dramatic decrease in sleep duration," lead study author Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience. "Without sufficient sleep, we become a social turnoff, and loneliness soon kicks in."
The researchers acknowledged in an interview with ABC News that the size of the study was small, so the results might not be seen in the general population. However, the authors hope to start a conversation about the connection between sleep and physical and mental health. And, perhaps, this study is a good reminder that if you see a loved one who is struggling with exhaustion or loneliness, resist the urge to turn away from them. Chances are, they might really need you right now.