A lack of sleep affects people’s ability to feel for others. Sleep deprivation and emotional fatigue can hit anyone, but first responders and health-care workers are especially vulnerable due to shift work, long hours, and the overall stressful nature of their jobs.
A study conducted by cognitive neuroscience researchers Veronica Guadagni and Giuseppe Iaria was designed to help us understand how a single night without sleep would impact people’s ability to understand the emotions of others. By measuring the empathy of a group of university students before and after a full night awake engaging in activities, vs a second group of students who were sent home for a night’s rest, the results established that the sleep-deprived students felt less empathy for people in negative situations than students who had had a good night’s sleep.
Chronic poor sleep quality is also linked with lower empathy for others and is very often found in paramedics who experience chronic sleep loss due to scheduling.