woman pouring coffee on table as side effects of sleep deprivation

Research: Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation Include Social Withdrawal, Loneliness & More

Despite its importance, we criminally underrate the benefits of sleep and the side effects of sleep deprivation. It's a tired cliche' but one-third of our lives are spent asleep, so you'd think we'd invest more time and energy to it.

Each of us knows what the day after a bad night's sleep feels like. It’s often a struggle, right? Good luck with trying to be productive!

We often rate the success of a night’s sleep by the number of hours we get. Yet rarely do we stop and assess the quality of those hours.

How much time do you invest in protecting those valuable horizontal moments? If you are like most, it probably hasn't crossed your mind that often.

Well, some very smart people out of the University of California, Berkeley, have found some things. And it may prompt a re-think of your sleep habits thanks to the side effects of sleep deprivation.

Let's take a look at what the study found.

The Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

The study, published in the Journal of Nature Communications (August 14th), found that sleep deprivation “leads to a behavioural profile of social withdrawal and loneliness,” and the appearance of “being significantly lonelier.”

So not only may you feel more lonely, but you are perceived to be more lonely as well.

This is important as it may give those suffering from prolonged exposure to these issues an avenue to explore. It may at least give greater insight into the mechanics of their symptoms. For the rest of us, it may help to frame some of the more intangible aspects of our mental health and social tendencies.

If you feel lonely or less social than usual, perhaps improving any poor sleep hygiene might help.

Related: Are you aware of the impact of blue light on our sleep?

The Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation Are Contagious

This study also highlights that the side effects of sleep deprivation can flow on to those around you.

It showed that beyond our own feelings of loneliness and an increased outside perception of being lonely, those observing us can feel “significantly lonelier themselves.”

So not only can poor sleep knock you off your own axis, it can spread to those around you as well.

I think it's some genuine food for thought.

Can These Findings Be Generalized?

It's important to respect that research and scientific evidence reign supreme in my industry. And so it should, to be honest. However, with these articles, I also want to foster a greater awareness of its flaws and biases.

Any and all results need to be respected, but also taken with a grain of salt. Yes, this study found a lack of sleep may have potential emotional and social ramifications. But can we take it as gospel?

It's important to have your wits about you when deciding whether these findings can actually be generalized to you and everyone else outside of the study.

Limitations of the Study

With this in mind, it's important to look at the way this was conducted otherwise you may miss important information the could change the way its findings should be framed.

In this case, one little item stands out to me the most. When participating in the study patients underwent “two sessions performed in a counterbalanced order: one after a normal night of sleep, and one after 24 h of total sleep deprivation”.

Now in my experience as a Physiotherapist, sleep deprivation will likely have some negative consequences. It can affect a whole range of mental and physical factors. But a full 24 hours of deprivation is another thing altogether.

If the study reflected a more applicable loss of an hour two which (for me at least) is a reasonable reduction than I’d be more inclined to take the results as gospel. There wouldn’t be too many of us who routinely pull an all-nighter, yeah?

There may be a true correlation here but it’s just important to keep things in perspective.

Related: Here's why I'm at odds with evidence-based practice.


A study like this is invaluable for no other reason than it might give you a moment to pause and consider your sleep habits, perhaps for the first time.

If you indulge in a frequent “all-nighter”, do night shift or have a job that really plays havoc with your sleep, keeps an eye on the above. For the rest of us, be on the lookout for these symptoms, and if you see some room to improve your sleep habits please do.

You deserve to feel the best you can and there are so many simple things to consider to decrease the likelihood of any side effects of sleep deprivation.

Is this study news to you? How are you sleeping and is it something you've ever thought much about? Let me know in the COMMENTS.

Journal Reference:

  1. Eti Ben Simon, Matthew P. Walker. Sleep loss causes social withdrawal and loneliness. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05377-0
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