Lack of Sleep Makes Us Less Generous and Healthy

A new study suggests that lack of sleep makes people less willing to help others. These findings add to the list of other negative impacts of sleep deprivation on human well-being.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley assessed the impact of lack of sleep on people's willingness to help others in three different studies. The results were published in the peer-reviewed PLOS Biology.

In the first study, the scientists scanned the brains of 24 healthy volunteers in a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI) after eight hours of sleep and after a night of no sleep.

They found that areas of the brain-forming theory of mind network, engaged when people empathize with others or try to understand other people's wants and needs, were less active after a sleepless night.

In a second study, the researchers tracked more than 100 people online over three or four nights and measured the quality of their sleep. The scientists then assessed participants' desire to help others, such as holding an elevator door open for someone else or volunteering. The study showed that those with poor sleep the night prior reported being less willing and keen to help others the following day.

In a third study, researchers analyzed a database of 3 million charitable donations in the US between 2001 and 2016. They found a 10% drop in donations after the transition to daylight saving time, which means a potential loss of one hour of sleep, compared to regions that did not change their clocks.

"Even a very modest 'dose' of sleep deprivation — here, just the loss of one single hour of sleep opportunity linked to daylight saving time — has a very measurable and very real impact on people's generosity and, therefore, how we function as a connected society," said Matthew Walker, author of the study a UC Berkeley professor of psychology.

Another study by UC Berkeley researchers in 2018 demonstrates that sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and less inclined to engage with others. Moreover, these people are seen as more "socially repulsive" by others, further increasing social isolation.

Increased risk of chronic diseases

A survey from 2022 conducted by Gallup and mattress retailer Casper found that nearly four in 10 adults under the age of 50 (38%) said their sleep last night was fair or poor, compared with 30% of those aged 50 to 64 and 24% of those aged 65 and older.

The study, which included more than 3,000 adults, indicates that a person’s mental and emotional state is the most important factor affecting sleep quality. For example, experiencing stress a lot of the day increases the chance of low-quality sleep that night by 96%.

Poor sleep has been linked to the development of numerous chronic diseases and conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The recent studies add to the mounting evidence that poor sleep increases the risk of various diseases.

A 2022 study on sleep by the European Society of Cardiology that included 7,200 men and women aged 50 to 75 estimated that if all participants had an optimal sleep score, 72% of new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke might be avoided each year.

A recent study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that children who get less than nine hours of sleep per night have significant differences in certain brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to those who get the recommended 9-12 hours of sleep per night.

The study that collected data from more than 8,300 children aged 9-10 years found that these differences correlated with greater mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors in sleep-deprived children.


1. University of California, Berkeley. Sleepless and selfish: Lack of sleep makes us less generous.

2. University of California, Berkeley. Poor sleep triggers viral loneliness and social rejection.

3. European Society of Cardiology. Good sleepers have lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

4. Gallup. Sleep Struggles More Common Among Younger Adults, Women.

5. CDC. Sleep and Chronic Disease.

6. University of Maryland School of Medicine. Children Who Lack Sleep May Experience Detrimental Impact on Brain and Cognitive Development That Persists Over Time, UM School of Medicine Study Finds.

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