The Social Power of Sleep

Sleep isn’t just good for your healthit’s good for society

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
Elemental
Published in
6 min readJun 18, 2019

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Photo: Zhi-Wei Wu/EyeEm/Getty Images

PPhysical exhaustion and diminished concentration are familiar to everyone, but sleep deprivation may impact social behavior too. Sociality isn’t just important for meeting people and making friends; it underlies many of the most revered activities in modern society, from voting in elections to helping people in need. The study of sleep may therefore give a fresh perspective on the best and worst instincts of humanity.

In U.S. surveys covering over 300,000 adults between 1985 and 2012, the number of adults sleeping six hours or less increased by 31%, with the most dramatic changes occurring before 2004. Six hours’ shut-eye isn’t enough. The National Sleep Foundation, after evaluating all available evidence with a panel of experts in 2015, recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults to maintain optimal health and functioning.

Research has shown that a lack of sleep can hinder cognitive function — especially the basic processes of alertness and attention — by introducing lapses in the firing patterns of brain cells.

Sleep deprivation also impacts the human body more globally, with links to physical health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure. General sleep disturbances, reflecting both too much sleep and too little sleep outside of the seven to eight hour range, could even be associated with an earlier death.

On the whole, it’s easy to find research on how poor sleep quality disturbs people’s biology, burdens cognitive performance, and perturbs brain activity. But it’s only recently, in March 2019, that one group of researchers from the U.S. and Germany published research examining what these outcomes may mean for the common good.

One critical civic duty in modern society is the duty to vote in elections. Healthy democracies depend on the input of large, diverse, and representative samples of citizens who participate in electing leaders to act in their interests. Higher voter turnout is considered a sign of social engagement, shared values, and societal cohesion.

The researchers analyzed data from national surveys that included questions on voting behaviors and sleep quality. They statistically removed…

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Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
Elemental

Research Leader (Ex-Instagram / Chief Scientist at multiple startups). Author of the User Insight Newsletter: https://userinsight.substack.com/