A recent study shows that the lack of sleep can affect the way you perceive people’s emotions, so if you’re starting to feel like the world is against you, it may be time to clock in some zzz’s.
It’s time to stop stretching your waking hours to accommodate too many things in your career and social calendar. Adding to the many reasons why you shouldn’t scrimp on sleep, a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that the lack of sleep curtails our ability to read facial expressions. This means that without proper sleep, our brain is not able to properly decipher the moods of people around us, making interaction and decisions based on our impressions more difficult.
Researcher Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, explains:
“The better the quality of dream sleep, the more accurate the brain and body was at differentiating between facial expressions”.
The Brain – Heart Disconnect
The experiment comprised of 18 healthy young adults who were asked to viewed 70 facial expressions that ranged from friendly to threatening. The test showed that there was a huge difference in the way their brain reacted to seeing the facial reactions after a full night of sleep, and then later after 24 hours of being awake.
The researchers monitored the brain activity and heart rate of the participants in both scenarios. The results show that without sleep, the brain is less able to stimulate the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, its emotion-sensing regions. They also found that when sleep deprived, the brain is unable to send distress signals to the heart, creating a different physical response to what would normally be experienced during emotional situations. Participants who weren’t able to get a full night’s rest were interpreting most facial reactions, including friendly and neutral ones, as threatening and negative emotions instead.
Walker finds this as a major cause of concern as he relays:
“Two-thirds of people in the developed nations fail to get sufficient sleep”.
This is an alarming finding since sleep deprivation is a common phenomenon, and it is not uncommon for people to consider sleep as a lesser priority to their deadlines and social commitments. Consider how this affects you on a daily basis. The less sleep you get, the less able you will be to properly interact and communicate with the people around you. Our ability to read expressions properly allows us to form our impressions and judgement of people, which in turn results to how we react in various situations. This over estimation of threat caused by the lack of sleep can cause you to react to the most neutral of situations as a cause of emotional concern and stress. Next time you’re sleep deprived and feeling paranoid that people are giving you a stink eye, it might actually all just be in your head.
This poses a more significant level of threat to individuals with jobs that require quick response to highly stressful situations but are prone to sleep-deprivation. These are the people who are expected to make important decisions based on first impressions and intuition. The study lead author Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University (who has been working on the study since he was a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley), notes:
“Consider the implications for students pulling all-nighters, emergency-room medical staff, military fighters in war zones and police officers on graveyard shifts”.
We have been told time and again that sleep is an important factor to attain complete physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Understand that the harm of sleep deprivation is a very real thing. If you or your loved ones have been getting less sleep than recommended, it is time to make a change. Save yourself from awkward situations and poorly calculated decisions. Turn off the lights, pry your eyes away from your phone, and tuck yourself in. A conscious effort to snooze off as scheduled can help your mind and body function like a well-oiled machine.
Featured photo credit: Ryan McGuire via stocksnap.io