Is poor sleep making you unkind?

Lack of sleep will leave you feeling tired, but it can also cause you to think and even act differently.

How do you usually feel after a bad night’s sleep? Tired? That’s to be expected.

Grumpier than usual? Probably, given research confirms sleep deprived people tend to get more stressed out and angered by simple challenges.

But can running low on sleep change fundamental aspects of your personality – things like how generous and empathetic you are?

Yes, according to a new study.

The study found “charitable giving” drops by 10 per cent in the week after daylight saving starts, when “springing forward” means we lose an hour of sleep.

It also found a lack of sleep zapped people’s empathy and desire to help others, building on earlier research that linked poor sleep to social isolation and loneliness.

“We’re starting to see more and more studies, including this one, where the effects of sleep loss don’t just stop at the individual, but propagate to those around us,” University of California, Berkley, research scientist and study leader Eti Ben Simon reported.

“If you’re not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t just hurt your own wellbeing; it hurts the wellbeing of your entire social circle, including strangers.”

What’s the link between lack of sleep and selfishness?

One explanation, according to the new research, is that lack of sleep significantly impairs a network in the brain that’s essential for considering and comprehending what other people’s needs are.

Australian sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo says losing sleep impacts the brain in other ways, too.

“Mentally, when we lack sleep, our brains don’t cleanse properly,” Olivia says.

“There is a lack of beta-amyloid detoxification, leaving us unable to think straight, concentrate or focus.

“This would cause incredible frustration and emotional anguish, considering it’s in addition to the fatigue and stress caused by lack of sleep as well.

“My clients have come to me saying they feel like a ‘shell of a human’ after extensive sleep loss.

“They have explained how they lack motivation, feel emotionally exhausted, cry readily and lose their temper – specifically when they lack sleep.”

If you’re not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t just hurt your own wellbeing; it hurts the wellbeing of your entire social circle, including strangers.

Tips to manage crankiness when you’re tired

In the short term, Olivia says there are things you can do to fight back against the knock-on effects of a bad night’s sleep.

Get some sun for 20 minutes in the hour after waking

“It helps your body produce serotonin, an awakening hormone that helps you feel happier at the same time,” Olivia says.

Avoid coffee

“When the body is sleep deprived the HPA axis – the region responsible for adrenaline release – dysfunctions and releases too much adrenaline when stimulated,” Olivia explains.

“As a result, if you usually feel energised after a coffee, when sleep deprived you’ll instead feel overly energised, perhaps anxious and jittery, followed by a crash.”

Have a green tea and honey

“Green tea contains l-theanine, which helps the body relax, and a small portion of caffeine to give you a boost,” she says.

“The honey will give you some quick carbs to spike your energy levels, too.”

Why we need to focus on getting better sleep

Olivia says the long-term solution to research results like this, that explain how lack of sleep affects personality traits, looks a little different.

“While it’s great to assess the reasons behind this, what’s more important is to be proactive in preventing further sleep deprivation,” she says.

Considering four in 10 Australians regularly experience inadequate sleep, it’s smart advice – and Eti agrees.

“Promoting sleep could very palpably help shape the social bonds we all experience every day,” Eti says.

“Sleep, it turns out, is an incredible lubricant to prosocial, connected, empathic, kind and generous human behavior.”

Written by Karen Fittall.