University of Arizona study: Lack of sleep makes people less empathetic

Posted at 4:17 AM, Apr 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-26 10:35:52-04

A lack of sleep doesn't just make you groggy -- it makes you less empathetic, according to a new study by University of Arizona researchers.

Twenty-nine men and 25 women were asked to analyze a series of computer-morphed faces showing a combination of six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. The group was kept awake for 61 hours and tested before being deprived of rest, during deprivation and after a 12-hour "recovery sleep."

“What we found was that it was the threat emotions that people could still recognize [during sleep deprivation] — so you could recognize anger, you could recognize fear, but they showed a degradation in their ability recognize happiness or sadness,” said Dr. William 'Scott' Killgore, who led the study.  

“Your brain is hard-wired for survival. So even when you’re sleep deprived, the systems of the brain that are there to keep you alive still stay active. And if anything's going to shut off, it’s going to be the more social aspects.”  

Killgore says the study suggests a lack of sleep could lead to problems at home and in the workplace.  

"You need to be able to read your spouse accurately, you need to be able to read your coworkers accurately."

In addition, he says the study found a lack of sleep can lead you to make riskier decisions.