Can good sleep make us more empathetic?

Lack of sleep makes us less helpful and altruistic, according to a small study by international researchers. The team measured sleep activity in the brain during a normal night of sleep, then asked them to play a game where participants were given points equating to real money, and had to decide whether to keep the money or contribute it to a ‘public good’. They found those with higher slow-wave sleep activity (representing deeper sleep) were more likely to donate the money they were given in the ‘public good’ game. Interestingly, the length of time participants slept didn’t impact their pro-social behaviour in the game. The findings suggest that sleep quality might impact empathy, but not necessarily the length of time people sleep. 

Funder: This work was supported by a grant from the Typhaine Foundation awarded to DK.

Media release

From: Society for Neuroscience

Sleep quality impacts the extent of our altruism

Deep sleep physiology in a brain region that contributes to taking on the perspectives of others impacts the extent to which a person is helpful and giving. 

Sleep deprivation studies suggest that lack of sleep makes us less helpful and altruistic, which are prosocial behaviors that benefit society. However, more significant differences in altruism are seen when drawing comparisons between people. Could differences in prosocial behaviors between people be linked to differences in individual sleep profiles? That is what Dr. Mirjam Studler, Dr. Lorena Gianotti, and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland investigated in their study of 54 human participants. The scientists measured sleep physiology in the brain during a normal night of sleep and then determined prosocial preferences in a game in which participants were given points equating to real money and had to decide whether they wanted to keep the money or contribute any of it to the “public good”. Those with higher slow-wave sleep activity (which represents deeper sleep) measured by electrodes in the right temporal lobe of the brain were more likely to donate the money they were given in the “public good” game. Interestingly, the length of time study participants slept did not impact their prosocial behavior during the game. Taken together with the fact that this brain region is important for taking on the perspectives of others, these findings suggest that differences in prosocial behavior may be linked to differences in sleep quality that impact empathy and not necessarily the length of time people sleep. 

SOURCE

Leave a Comment