Why do people get stingy after experiencing lack of sleep?


It has long been known that lack of sleep is extremely harmful to the health and cognitive functions of the brain. One study even showed that women who don’t get enough sleep age faster. But how does lack of sleep affect people’s social behavior? This question was of interest to the staff of the University of California at Berkeley, who conducted an experiment to assess the generosity of sleepy people. Moreover, they touched upon the readiness to help other people in general after lack of sleep – to give way to a stranger on the bus, to lend a bicycle to an employee if he really needs it, etc. As it turned out, altruism suffers greatly in sleepy people, but what is the reason for this?

How lack of sleep affects people’s behavior

Scientists conducted several experiments at once to assess the degree of altruism. The first was attended by 23 volunteers who had to spend two nights in the laboratory. The first night they slept, and the second they were awake. At the same time, after each night, the participants in the experiment had to answer questions regarding their willingness to help other people. As it turned out, after a sleepless night, people had much less desire to help others.

Altruism is negatively affected even by poor sleep

The second experiment was more global – more than a hundred people took part in it. They didn’t have to stay awake all night, but the authors asked them to report their sleep quality after each of the four nights. Scientists were interested in how often people woke up, how long they fell asleep, etc.

After each night, they were also tested for altruism. As expected after the first experiment, people had lower levels of altruism when they slept poorly than after nights with good sound sleep. In addition, their altruism was lower compared to other people who slept well. The researchers reported this in the journal PLoS Biology.

How good sleep affects generosity

The third experiment dealt exclusively with generosity, namely, donations from people. The team studied the statistics between 2001 and 2006. In many countries of the world, including the United States, in spring and autumn, time is switched to summer or winter. For people, especially “painful” is the transition to daylight saving time in the spring, as the hands of the clock move forward an hour. Accordingly, people have to wake up an hour earlier.

As a result of lack of sleep, people reduce the amount of donations

With this in mind, the researchers compared the average donation in the week before the clock change with the amount of donations people made during the week after the clock change. It turned out that after the transition to daylight saving time, the average amount of donations decreased from $82 per day to $73 per day.

Avarice in this case is one of the manifestations of a general decrease in the level of altruism. However, a week after the clock turned, the average donation increased again. This partly proves that stinginess in this case is associated with lack of sleep. A week later, the sleep pattern returned to normal, and long-term sleep deprivation disappeared, as a result of which the level of altruism also increased.

But why is this happening? On an intuitive level, there is nothing surprising in the results of the experiments. When we don’t get enough sleep, we feel bad. Agree, in such a situation it is difficult to think about other people. However, as the study showed, this is not the main reason for stinginess.

To find out why people’s levels of altruism decrease after lack of sleep, scientists checked the brain activity of volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging. It turned out that all the participants in the first experiment, who did not sleep one night, decreased the activity of the part of the brain responsible for the ability to understand other people’s emotions and sympathize with them.

We have previously said that lack of sleep even affects the way people walk due to the deterioration of the cognitive functions of the brain. All this suggests that the brain of a person who has not had enough sleep begins to work worse in all respects. Obviously, altruism is one of the social functions of higher nervous activity. Therefore, when the brain begins to cope with its tasks worse, altruism suffers along with other functions.

Finally, we recall that lack of sleep not only negatively affects brain function, but can also lead to dangerous health problems, up to a stroke. Therefore, sacrificing your sleep is not worth it under any circumstances.

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