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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!

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    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 September 20, 2018

    How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

    How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

    Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

    If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

    1. Breathe

    The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

    • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
    • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
    • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

    Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

    2. Loosen up

    After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

    Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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    3. Chew slowly

    Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

    Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

    Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

    4. Let go

    Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

    The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

    It’s not. Promise.

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    Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

    Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

    21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

    5. Enjoy the journey

    Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

    Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

    6. Look at the big picture

    The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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    Will this matter to me…

    • Next week?
    • Next month?
    • Next year?
    • In 10 years?

    Hint: No, it won’t.

    I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

    Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

    7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

    You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

    Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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    8. Practice patience every day

    Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

    • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
    • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
    • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

    Final thoughts

    Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

    Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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