We all know that a good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy mind and body and that a lack of sleep can lead to various physical and mental ailments, including exhaustion and difficulty concentrating. But lack of sleep can underpin almost all of our daily functions, including our ability to empathize with others.
While not often discussed or studied, empathy is a basic social skill, involving both cognitive and emotional aspects. It alerts us if a person is in pain or distress, and allows us to relate to or care for them accordingly. Not only is empathy important for building healthy relationships, but it is also crucial for many professions, and for a healthy and functioning society.
Our interdisciplinary group of grantees– Alex Gileles-Hillel, a doctor in the pediatric pulmonology and sleep unit at Hadassah Medical Center, Shoham Choshen-Hillel, a Hebrew University business school professor, and Anat Perry, a psychology professor at the Hebrew University– will delve deeper into the connection between sleep and empathy and explore potential remedies to improve healthcare professionals’ wellbeing and job performance.
Addressing an ongoing hidden problem in healthcare
By supporting this new research project in Jerusalem, we hope to advance the understanding of how sleep affects empathy, especially among physicians, who often work long shifts without rest. This sleep deprivation can cause their levels of empathy to drop, decreasing their ability to connect with patients in order to effectively treat them.
This research, which is the first to investigate the direct effects of sleep on empathy, revolves around testing CogNyx, a non-invasive headband developed by our portfolio company, NYX Technologies that helps the wearer achieve the optimal natural brainwave patterns necessary for falling asleep and entering deep sleep, and the effects this device has on improving sleep quality and cognitive and social functioning.
The goal is to change the autonomic nervous system to increase empathy by developing an intervention to reduce the negative effects of doctors’ sleep deprivation on both their ability to be present and compassionate as well as their ability to diagnose and treat their patients.
In addition to measuring sleep quality, our grantees will study its direct link to empathy by examining how participating doctors respond to pain, the emotions of others and overall decision-making ability after sleeping with or without the use of the CogNyx device.
Opening the door to better sleep and empathy for the larger population
The CogNyx device and associated research on the links between sleep and empathy have potential to increase wellbeing for people beyond doctors and their patients, who no doubt benefit from their caregivers’ increased empathy.
Eventually, such a headband or other wearable device could be an effective solution for the mainstream population to enable more people to benefit from better sleep.
“Sleep deprivation is a modern-day epidemic affecting nearly every sector of the population, gaining a better understanding of its effects and how to measure and overcome them, should have immense implications for all parts of society, from insomnia patients to parents of young children to shift-workers and anybody else struggling to get a good night’s rest, ” explains Gileles-Hillel.
We are excited to see where this research will take us and how it can potentially open up more possibilities to solve the problem of sleep deprivation to enable more empathy not just for doctors treating their patients but for all suffering from sleep deprivation.
While sleep disruptions, working long hours and night shifts are things we cannot change, the path towards better sleep and gaining all the benefits from this important life function can be eased through this groundbreaking research. By combining multidisciplinary research and cutting-edge technology, we are sowing the seeds of a more compassionate and better future.