Lack of sleep can make us more selfish

September 13, 2022
A photo of a bed with a white comforter and pink and gray pillows

"Best Form Of Kindness"

New research says a simple variable may be the key to keeping our social fabric together.
How more helping hands may come from more restful nights.

New Study

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments studying the relationship between sleep & generosity:

  • Two groups of people received brain scans. Prior to the scan, one group slept a normal amount (eight hours) & the other was kept awake all night.

  • 100+ participants kept a sleep log & answered questions about helping others the next day.

  • Analyzed the timing of more than 3 million charitable donations between 2001 & 2016.


  • Those who got less sleep had reduced activity in the region of the brain associated with empathetic and social behavior.

  • The worse a participant slept, the less desire they had in helping others.

  • Researchers found charitable giving dropped 10% after the beginning of Daylight Saving Time (when residents in most parts of the United States lose one hour of sleep) but did not drop in areas with no time change.

  • Bottom line: Our lack of sleep doesn't just impact US but society as a whole.

"A lack of sleep makes people less empathetic, less generous, more socially withdrawn, and it's infectious — there is contagion of loneliness."

UC Berkeley research scientist Eti Ben Simon, who co-led the experiment and also conducted earlier research which found that a lack of sleep caused people to socially withdraw and feel socially isolated — when the sleep-deprived people interacted with others, they could spread that feeling of sadness "like a virus," says Ben Simon. She recommends that sleep "is the best form of kindness we can offer ourselves, as well as the people around us."

While the recommended hours of sleep per night varies by age, most adults should aim for 7 or more hours of sleep. But 1 out of 3 Americans report getting less than 7 hours, and lack of sleep is linked to chronic disease including heart disease and depression (CDC). The UC Berkeley researchers say we need a social shift in how we value and consider the amount (and quality) of rest we need!

Here's the full study: Sleep loss leads to the withdrawal of human helping across individuals, groups, and large-scale societies (PLOS Biology)

Good Overview: Sleepless and selfish: Lack of sleep makes us less generous (ScienceDaily)

Sleep Deprivation Could Make People More Selfish, Study Finds (Smithsonian Magazine)

Did You Get Enough Sleep? (CDC)

Sleep statistics 2022

Curious to learn more? Check out our interview, SmartHER Sleep, with sleep expert Dr. Chris Winter:

by Jenna Lee,