UC Berkeley study shows lack of sleep detracts from social life

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Amanda Ramirez/Staff

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Staying up that extra hour to study or socialize can lead to more than just exhaustion — it can leave people less healthy and more socially isolated, shows a recent UC Berkeley study.

Research published by psychology professor Matthew Walker and postdoctoral fellow Eti Ben Simon indicates that a lack of sleep can lead to increased social withdrawal and loneliness. According to Simon, the results of the study can be applied to the understanding of asocial behaviors seen in major psychiatric disorders.

“Our new study demonstrates that a lack of sleep is a causal trigger of human loneliness. In an analysis that encompasses more than 1,350 research participants, we systematically characterize this effect across behavioral, brain and societal levels,” said Simon in an email.

Published in Nature Communications, the research involved studying a group of individuals in periods of restfulness and sleep deprivation. The study was based on a social distance exercise, which tested the comfort of individuals placed in the company of sleep deprived subjects.

According to Walker, the pair found that the loneliness felt by the subjects was reciprocal. Those told to interact with tired subjects also became lonelier themselves.

“Our findings point to a potential relationship between the rapidly rising rate of loneliness in developed nations, and the co-occurring sleep-loss epidemic in society,” said Simon in the email.

Campus freshman Neelam Khan said she agrees with the results of the study, referencing how she has noticed that some of her friends socially isolate themselves when they get less sleep.

“I have a lot of friends who … if they don’t get enough sleep, they won’t talk to you that often,” Khan said. “I mean it happens. You know how it kind of ruins your mood?”

According to Walker, although sleep is often seen as something that takes time away from social activity, in actuality the opposite appears to be true — rest actually reconnects people with their friends, partners and even strangers.

Lack of sleep also has harmful physical effects and can cause many of the major diseases that are killing people in the developing world, according to Simon in the email.

“Every major disease that is killing us in the developed world — from Alzheimer’s to cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, to diabetes and obesity— have significant (and many causal) links to insufficient sleep,” said Simon in the email. “Loneliness, another killer, must now be added to that list.”

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.