Unfortunate Fact: The Health Of Your Social Life Depends On Your Sleep Schedule

Loneliness is a hard-hitting emotion that affects almost everyone at some point. Maybe you lost a lot of friends after leaving school, or perhaps your squad split up when marriage and babies came into the picture. If you've been feeling especially lonely lately, you're not alone (no pun intended): Loneliness has been on the rise for years and was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Harvard Magazine.

Feeling lonely can be difficult enough to deal with on its own, but it can also lead to other issues like heart disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety (per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Though it can be easier said than done, nurturing your social life and putting yourself out there to meet new people is crucial for both your mental and physical health. However, friends may not be the only thing missing when you feel alone — your sleep might be lacking too. Here's how sleep deprivation could be damaging your social connections.

You might make more selfish decisions

When you imagine an ideal friend, you likely think of someone warm, kind, and unselfish. According to a 2022 study published in the Athens Journal of Education, a sample of university students ranked traits like "considerate" and "generous" high when describing the qualities they look for in a peer. In general, people want to befriend someone who's thoughtful and giving.

However, when you're running low on sleep, you might have a harder time showing your altruistic side. A 2022 study published in PLOS Biology concluded that people are less generous when they clock fewer ZZZs. Even one night of poor rest or one hour of sleep lost is enough to impact behavior.

Eti Ben Simon, one of the study's lead researchers, explained to Berkeley News, "If you're not getting enough sleep, it doesn't just hurt your own well-being, it hurts the well-being of your entire social circle, including strangers." Selfishness can leave a major impact and become a barrier between you and potential friends. Spending just a little more time in bed might be all it takes to leave a better impression.

You may isolate yourself more

Sleepiness and loneliness, unfortunately, go hand in hand. A 2018 study published in the journal Nature Communications discovered that sleep-deprived observers were more likely to report feelings of loneliness after seeing video images of other people compared to participants who had gotten sufficient rest. The study focused on people's perceptions of their loneliness, not whether they were actually lacking friendships.

"The reason we designed the test like this is because, while social isolation and loneliness are related, the concept of loneliness is subjective," researcher Eti Ben Simon told Well+Good. "It has to do with whether you feel like you are socially connected to others who understand and support you." In other words, you might not be as alone as you believe, though your drowsy mind might tell you otherwise.

And when you feel sleepy and lonely, you might be even more likely to isolate yourself, canceling plans or ignoring messages from friends, according to a 2020 study published in PNAS. It makes sense to listen to your body and stay in bed when you need rest. But when a lack of sleep becomes the norm, expect your social life to suffer the consequences.

You might be worse at reading social cues

You already know how hard it can be to function when you're sleepy. You might make more errors at work when you're running on zero sleep, or maybe you check your planner and realize you totally blanked on a doctor's appointment. Your sleep-deprived brain can sabotage your social life too.

"A sleep-deprived person does not feel well," Dr. Jay Puangco, a neurologist specializing in sleep medicine, shared with Healthline. "They may not have the energy required for social interaction. This may require having alertness to cognitively process what other people are saying, reading their body language, and giving appropriate feedback."

Social cues and conversation skills can fly out the window when you're low on energy. Sleeplessness can also make it harder to accurately judge other people's emotions, according to a 2017 study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. And to be honest, this can make you a little awkward to hang out with. But before you label yourself socially inept, know that it likely all ties in with your sleep schedule — so make sure you're getting the ZZZs you need.

You may seem less appealing to other people

You already know that what other people think of you doesn't really matter at the end of the day — regardless of who appreciates it, you bring a unique set of strengths to the table. There's a chance, though, that your charismatic light might be dimmed when you're lacking sleep. As a result, others may fail to see the real you and all you have to offer.

One example has to do with your mood. It's no surprise that sleep deprivation can make you moody. You may struggle to regulate your emotions and keep your stress in check the way you would if you had gotten eight full hours of snooze time. Your irritability could spill over into your friendships, causing friction with the people you love.

And as cruel as it might sound, looking tired can make you seem less appealing to others. A 2017 study published in Open Science found that people are thought to be less socially attractive after losing sleep. Research participants were also less interested in socializing with sleep-deprived people, preferring those who appeared energized and well-rested instead. So consider beauty sleep crucial — not only for eliminating those under-eye bags, but also for boosting your social life.