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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 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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