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Social life and healthy sleep

Advice from Rut Ruiz, scientific editor at AdSalutem Instituto del sueño, a BBHI partner in the field of sleep.

Recent research indicates that getting a good night’s sleep improves our social interactions, and vice versa, a social life promotes better quality sleep. Taking into account that social contact is vital for health in general and that it is also one of the most important factors to protect our mental well-being, it seems reasonable to pay attention to how we sleep.

One of the latest findings shows that sleepiness associated with poor rest decreases our social activity (1); it has been observed that it reduces both the probability that we will initiate a social contact, and the time that we spend doing it. The authors explain that avoiding social relationships could be a biological response to the need to sleep (sleep pressure), promoting a quiet environment that favors falling asleep.
The social consequences of not sleeping well have been analyzed elsewhere, and research indicates that people feel less optimistic and sociable (2), tend to isolate themselves (3), and lead to less prosocial behavior (4). They have also found that, in these circumstances, our communication is less effective (5) and we are less responsive to others (6).

The main reason is that, during sleep, the brain performs restorative tasks that have a role in our emotional response, learning and social behavior. If we don’t get enough sleep or our rest is fragmented, the brain can’t put emotional experiences into context, or produce appropriate responses to the experiences. Sleep quality has been observed to correlate with the ability to accurately read the facial expressions of others. For the professor and researcher, Matthew Walker “if we lose the ability to read and decode facial emotions, we find ourselves at a profound social and psychological disadvantage.”

However, to achieve a healthy sleep and improve the quality of life, it is not enough to pretend to sleep more and seek social encounters. We must organize our day to favor night rest and be regular over time. Differentiating between day and night is critical to maintaining the health of the body’s biological clock and circadian rhythms. We have all been aware of the maladjustment and problems sleeping during confinement, due to the loss of schedules and routines outside the home.

Resources to take care of sleep
1. Keeping the biological clock on time: the pattern and quality of sleep depends on synchronizing the clock with the light/dark cycle.

  • Set regular sleep, exercise, and eating schedules
  • Expose yourself to sunlight during the day, especially when you wake up.
  • Get ready to sleep with warm lights at sunset. Limit blue light from electronic devices that inhibits the release of melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone.

2. Protect sleep homeostasis: in order to fall asleep, protect the architecture and make sleep restful, it is necessary to be tired and accumulate what we call sleep pressure.

  • Limit the consumption of stimulants such as caffeine
  • Do not stay in bed unless you are falling asleep.
  • Brief naps (10-20 min) and no later than 4 pm.

3. Healthy lifestyle:

  • Maintain an active life, exercise and healthy eating
  • Take care of social life.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption before bedtime could impair the quality of sleep.

4. Sleep promoting behaviours

  • Don’t take your worries to bed. It is preferable to reserve a few minutes a day to look for solutions to problems.
  • Perform relaxing activities that help to fall asleep and produce well-being.
  • Do not force sleep to avoid associated anxiety, it is preferable to go to bed when we are ready to sleep.

 

To know more:

  1. Sleepiness, sleep duration, and human social activity: An investigation into bidirectionality using longitudinal time-use data
  2. M. Haack, J. M. Mullington, Sustained sleep restriction reduces emotional and physical well-being. Pain 119, 56-64 (2005).
  3. E. Ben Simon, M. P. Walker, Sleep loss causes social withdrawal and loneliness. Nat. Commun. 9, 3146 (2018).
  4. D. L. Dickinson, T. McElroy, Sleep restriction and circadian effects on social decisions. Eur. Econ. Rev 97, 57–71 (2017).
  5. B. C. Holding, T. Sundelin, M. Lekander, J. Axelsson, Sleep deprivation and its effects on communication during individual and collaborative tasks. Sci. Rep. 9, 3131 (2019).
  6. T. Sundelin, M. Lekander, K. Sorjonen, J. Axelsson, Negative effects of restricted sleep on facial appearance and social appeal. R. Soc. Open Sci. 4, 160918 (2017).

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