Just One Hour Of Less Sleep Could Make People Decide Against Helping Others

Circa 1940, A man fights a losing battle with insomnia by counting sheep. (Photo by FPG/Getty … [+] Images)


Human beings are wired to help each other. Their ability to show up for each other in their time of need made it possible for modern civilizations to thrive. But a new study has found that if people are sleep deprived or sleep for one hour less than usual, it could result in them withdrawing their decision to help those in need.

While people are motivated to help each other based on their socioeconomic factors, cultural norms and expectations, and their ability to empathize with each other, researchers have found that ultimately, the human brain calls the shots.

Published in the journal PLOS Biology, researchers found that a person’s decision to withdraw help is associated with reduced activity in a set of brain regions known as the social cognition network. This includes the prefrontal cortex, mid and superior temporal sulcus, the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ), and the precuneus.

An individual’s social cognition network gets activated when they are able to take into consideration another person’s needs, state of mind, and acknowledge their perspectives. Whereas areas of abnormal tissues or lesions within the key regions of the brain’s social cognition network could cause “acquired sociopathy” or a loss of empathy and little to no motivation for compassionate helping.

“Yet the possibility that sleep loss represents another significant factor determining whether or not humans help each other, linked to underlying impairments within the social cognition brain network, remains unknown,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

To test their hypothesis, Eti Ben Simon, Matthew Walker, and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, examined the association between sleep loss and change in human behavior through self-reported altruism questionnaires and by using fMRI imaging. Individuals who were well-rested and getting adequate sleep were first told to answer the questionnaire, following which their brain activity was assessed using fMRI imaging.

Another group of people were also given the altruism questionnaire and told to keep sleep diaries where they documented and evaluated their sleep quality and quantity.

Lastly, the researchers also observed how many donations were made in the United States in the weeks before and after the masses lost an hour of sleep because of Daylight Saving Time.

The fMRI results were clear: sleep deprivation subdued activity in the social cognition brain network. “This sleep loss effect was also consistent across participants, such that 78% of individuals demonstrated a reduction in the desire to help others,” the researchers wrote. “The deficit in helping following sleep loss further remained significant when controlling for individual changes in mood as well as changes in a task-assessed motivational effort.”

In a press release, Walker said, “Helping is a core, fundamental feature of humankind. This new research demonstrates that a lack of sleep degrades the very fabric of human society itself. How we operate as a social species — and we are a social species — seems profoundly dependent on how much sleep we are getting.”

Life Sciences, Forbes – Healthcare

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