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Study Finds Sleep-Deprived People Can’t Read Facial Expressions

Study Finds Sleep-Deprived People Can’t Read Facial Expressions

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:

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“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.

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Wonans-Hands-With-Jewelry-Typing-On-Laptop-Sitting-On-A-Bed
    Close that laptop and hit the sack!

    Work Hazards

    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.

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    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.

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    Featured photo credit: Ryan McGuire via stocksnap.io

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    Last Updated on July 23, 2019

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

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    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

    More to Help You Stay Motivated

    Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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