Not Enough Sleep Makes You Lonely, But Too Much WILL KILL YOU!


Last weekend I flew a red-eye home on Friday, drove six hours to take my son to college on Saturday, got four hours sleep in his apartment before driving back to the Boston area, stayed up until midnight thanks to a trip to the ER with our daughter (100% fine, now, thanks!) and then flew back to San Diego on Monday morning. Then I got up at 4:00 AM Eastern (1:00 AM Pacific), spent all day in the office and then finally got to bed at 9:00 PM Pacific time. We're talking 12 hours sleep over three and half days. Now in the youthful glory of my '80s clubbing days that would have been a breeze. At 51? You could carry a three-day weekend's worth of gear in the bags under my eyes right now. On the plus side, while I may now be "lonely," the lack of sleep won't be "killing" me, per my clickbait headline for you.

First part's first. Nature Communications (super legit journal) published an article last week entitled "Sleep Loss Causes Social Withdrawal and Loneliness."

It's been shown that lonely people who isolate themselves from others have reduced sleep both in terms of quantity AND quality. However, these researchers were interested in the reverse question. Would reduced sleep CAUSE social isolation? Cutting to the chase, yep. The study followed a bit of a complicated, two-part design (see the figure below), but simplifying it, here's what they did: In the first part, the researchers brought 18 subjects into the lab and had them have one night of sleep and run the tests. They then repeated the tests after a night of sleep deprivation. In addition to the tests, 1,033 people judged the 18 subjects based on interviews they watched. In part two of the experiment, a different set of participants, 138 of them, were assessed online across two days and nights and then completed questionnaires regarding loneliness and social behavior.

The first test of part one (or "a" in the diagram) had a stranger physically approach the subjects and asked them when they would like the stranger to stop getting close to them. (For real.) Then those crazy psychologists had the subjects watch someone getting closer to them on VIDEO SCREEN while they did a type of MRI on them that figured out when their brain started freaking out about that face getting closer, CLOSER, TOO FUCKING CLOSE!!! Anyway, in both those experiments, the sleep deprived wanted respectively 13 and 18 percent more damn room between themselves and those goddamn "close talkers." If you look at the bar charts, the error bars don't seem to overlap, but it's hard to tell, because they did a shit job graphing.

The judges who assessed the subjects also determined that less sleep = loneliness. In fact, the fucking JUDGES felt lonelier themselves after watching interviews with the sleep deprived peeps. THAT seems weird to this scientist. Are we testing sleep deprivation or not, people!? You can read about the online experiment for yourself, but just know that it backs up the findings of the first part. You know, now that I think about it, I DID feel lonely driving home from dropping off my son at college last weekend. It must have been the lack of sleep!

So, if you don't want to be lonely and meet that man/woman/non-judgy pronoun of your dreams, you should sleep half your life away, right? Hells no! Do you WANT to die of a heart attack? Back on August 3, the Journal of the American Heart Association (also legit) dropped this bad boy on us, entitled "Too Much Sleep Will FUCKING KILL YOU."

OK, maybe that's not the actual title.

Anyhow, because I'm a spoiler/cut-to-the-chase hijo de puto, here's the money line:

Divergence from the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep is associated with a higher risk of mortality and cardiovascular events. Longer duration of sleep may be more associated with adverse outcomes compared with shorter sleep durations.

This study is what is called a "meta-analysis." It's not a prospective study, but one where the researchers scour existing data, combine it and then torture analyze it to make it say what they want deduce a conclusion. Here, our friends at the Keele University in the UK looked at 60 studies with over three million subjects in them (this is where Keanu says, "Whoaaaa") and that's how they got their conclusion. If you read the study, they also find that it's really only sleeping more than eight hours that has the cardiovascular risk, not sleeping too little. (Well, based on their statistical methods which I can't judge as being the right or wrong way to look at it. Fuck it. I'm sleeping ten hours tonight to catch up on last weekend, heart attack be damned!)

So that's our Science Saturday version of your Carlos story of the week, but since I have you here at the end, I just want to recommend one of my favorite movies that has to do with sleep! Hit your favorite streaming service if you haven't seen The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. Here's the tagline: "An industrial worker who hasn't slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity." It's muy loco, so if you like your plots a bit on the wacky side, you will dig this a lot. See you amigos next week!

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Carlos Sagan

I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.

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follow me at: @RealCarlosSagan


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