Is your social life suffering? Are your friendships in jeopardy for some reason, and you can't seem to figure out why?
Before you start blaming your interests or personality, start somewhere else first: your sleep.
According to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, those who are sleep-deprived feel lonelier and less inclined to engage with others, and even avoid close contact "in much the same way as people with social anxiety." At the same time, others are also less likely to desire socializing with the sleep-deprived.
When sleep-deprived participants were shown videos of strangers walking toward them, brain scans showed that there was increased activity in brain networks usually activated when personal space is being invaded. A lack of sleep also reduced activity in parts of the brain that typically encourage social engagement.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, ultimately found that sleep-deprived individuals are more "socially unattractive" to others, and that social isolation caused by poor sleep patterns can even be contagious: After even a brief encounter with someone who is sleep-deprived, well-rested individuals also felt lonely.
As study senior author Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology, states, "The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss."
But how big is this impact of sleep loss? According to Walker, sleep deprivation may be a contributing factor to loneliness, a serious public health crisis.
With nearly half of Americans feeling left out or lonely, it has been found that loneliness can increase the risk of death by more than 45 percent (double the mortality risk associated with obesity).
Study lead author Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in Walker's Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, notes that it is "perhaps no coincidence that the past few decades have seen a marked increase in loneliness and an equally dramatic decrease in sleep duration."
If you find yourself skipping out on sleep, you may also wind up skipping out on healthy and successful social interactions. So get a good night's rest. As Walker suggests, just one night of good sleep can make you feel more outgoing, engaging, and socially attractive to others.