Your Bad Sleeping Habits May Be Making You Selfish

A new study makes a compelling argument for getting extra z's. Here's why, plus advice on how to get better rest.
A restless night of sleep may just mean you'll be less likely to help your friends and family.
mixetto via Getty Images
A restless night of sleep may just mean you'll be less likely to help your friends and family.

It’s no secret that a lack of sleep can make you grumpy, but now new research shows that a bad night’s rest may make you more selfish, too.

Data published recently in the journal PLOS Biology found a correlation between lack of sleep and selfishness. The research was conducted by experts from the University of California, Berkeley, and comprised data from three previous studies.

All studies found that people are more selfish after less or disrupted sleep.

The first study monitored the brains of 24 people after a night of good sleep and a night of sleep deprivation. Participants were asked to fill out a helping behavior questionnaire that required them to note what they’d do in difficult situations — like if they saw a hurt animal on the side of the road or if they would offer their seat to an older person on a crowded bus.

Researchers also took MRIs of their brains as they completed a social cognition task that required them to view “controlled information cards depicting various adults based in the U.S.” and determine the personalities of the silhouettes on the cards. During the MRI, parts of the brain that are associated with empathy were less active after a night of no sleep.

Additionally, participants overall “demonstrated a significant decrease in the desire to help others under conditions of sleep deprivation,” the study stated.

The second study tracked more than 100 people online for three or four nights via self-reported information measuring how much and how well they slept. The survey asked participants how many times they woke up, how many hours they slept, what time they woke up and more. As expected, the results suggested that a night of bad sleep resulted in less of a desire to help other people.

The third study examined the impact that daylight saving time has on charitable giving through an analysis of countrywide donation data from 2001 to 2016. This study found that “the transition to DST was associated with a significant decrease in the altruistic decision to give away money (make donations) compared to the weeks either before or after the transition.”

Even as little as a loss of one hour of sleep, as in the daylight saving time study, seemed to result in a worse mood for research subjects. Specifically, the study stated, “impaired positive mood can influence helping, in part by lowering empathic sensitivity to the needs or distress of others.”

Altruism is an important health benefit.

All of this to say, if you’re not sleeping well, you won’t be your best and most giving self ― a vital value that can improve your well-being.

Studies show that helping others can result in less stress for the person who is being charitable and has even been associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body. Not only does helping others make you feel good, but it may actually be physically good for you, too.

If you want to sleep better, avoid screens before bed.

The blue light coming from your TV or phone may be keeping you up at night — blue light has been shown to suppress melatonin, the hormone that your body needs to fall asleep.

Beyond this, when you’re looking at your phone, you aren’t letting your brain power down after a long day.

Dr. Sasha Hamdani, a board-certified psychiatrist and ADHD clinical specialist, previously told HuffPost that when we go on social media or flip on the TV, “we are seeking the dopamine release that comes when we see something that is exciting or interesting.”

“When your brain is engaged and active, it is less likely to shut off,” she said.

Looking at your phone right before bed could keep you up at night.
Yiu Yu Hoi via Getty Images
Looking at your phone right before bed could keep you up at night.

To help yourself fall asleep, think about nature.

Nature is a natural stress reliever, which is why thinking about the great outdoors can help you fall asleep, according to Jeffrey Durmer, a board-certified sleep medicine physician and sleep coach to the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team.

You can either try to drift off to sleep with thoughts of glistening lakes and chirping birds in your mind, or, if that doesn’t work, you can spend some time before bed “on a porch, patio, or deck to allow darkness and quiet to reverberate in your mind, rather than light and noise,” he previously told HuffPost.

It’s also important to have a good bedtime routine.

Routines are crucial for your day and are just as important for a good night of sleep.

If you don’t have a wind-down routine that works for you, you should consider creating one, Carley Prendergast, a certified sleep science coach and sleep expert, previously told HuffPost.

“One might want to look into establishing the routine of going to bed around the same time every night. This can help establish the circadian rhythm ― the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Other soothing activities could include taking a warm bath, skin care, reading a book, etc.,” she said.

A good bedtime routine can look different for everyone, but if you are having trouble sleeping, you should try to incorporate some soothing activities into your evening.

Before you know it, you may just be falling asleep faster and getting more restful sleep — which not only benefits you but can also benefit those around you.

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