I hope you're well-rested as you read this, because a new study has revealed yet another terrifying effect of sleep deprivation. According to researchers at the University of Berkeley, California, lack of sleep doesn't just contribute to eye bags and an overdependence on caffeine: it can also severely compromise your social life, impacting both your social desirability to others and your own inclination to socialise. Frightened yet? Here's exactly how a lack of sleep can impact your social life.
As the Independent reports, researchers conducted two experiments to probe the connection between insufficient sleep and social isolation, publishing their findings in scientific journal Nature. In the first, 18 young adults watched clips of strangers coming towards them, and were instructed to push a button when they felt the person had come too close. Their brain scans were analysed throughout the experiment, which they participated in both after a good night's sleep and after a poor one.
According to the Independent, the researchers observed that "people experienced strong social repulsion activity in the brain during the experiment when they were sleep-deprived and reacted in a way that is akin to feeling like their personal space is being invaded or that they are in a potentially threatening situation."
In the second experiment, over 1,000 people watched clips of the study participants talking to each other, and were asked to rate how lonely they seemed. "Those who were in a sleep-deprived state ranked as lonelier and less socially desirable by the observers," the Independent reports. The observers were then asked to "rate their own levels of social isolation" after watching the videos, and typically felt more alienated after doing so, indicating that this social isolation is contagious.
Study author Matthew Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Berkeley and author of Why We Sleep, concluded that sleep deprivation has a seriously deleterious impact on your social life. "The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss," he said. Socially repulsive? Ouch!
The damaging impacts of sleep deprivation are well documented: Insufficient sleep can increase your risk of health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, according to the NHS. Getting an adequate amount of sleep, meanwhile — that's typically about eight hours — can boost your immune system, sex drive, fertility, and mental well-being.
In 2017, scientists from Marche Polytechnic University in Italy concluded, as New Scientist reports, that a chronic lack of sleep can cause the brain to eat itself. Eat itself. To put it a little more technically, glial cells, including astrocytes (which destroy "unnecessary synapses" in the brain) and microglial cells (which remove damaged cells), are more active in sleep-deprived brains. "We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss," said study author Michele Bellesi.
New Scientist explained that "in the short term, this might be beneficial — clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect healthy brain connections." But over a longer period of time, the increased microglial activity could lead to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease.
A pretty terrifying prognosis for the sleep deprived, then, with everything from your social life to your blood pressure at risk because of those missed hours in bed. So, what can you do if you're not getting the advised eight hours? The NHS advises that one lie-in won't cut it, explaining that recovery from "sleep debt" can take several weeks.
Instead, the NHS recommends the following: "Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or 2 of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you're tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarm clocks allowed!)" Avoid depending on caffeine to get you through the day, and try sticking to a regular bedtime routine. Those with chronic insomnia, meanwhile, should consider speaking to a GP.
Let's recap: Skipping out on sleep can damage your social life, threaten your mental well-being, and increase your risk of major physical problems. What more reason do you need to tuck yourself in an hour earlier?