Sleep deprivation is a serious thing. It doesn’t just put dark circles under your eyes and make it difficult to focus on work. It also has pretty significant health consequences, and can apparently screw with your ability to interpret other people’s facial expressions and body language. A new study published in Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms claims that people who are sleep deprived are much less capable of interpreting other people’s emotions than people who aren’t.
The study, conducted by the University of Arizona, followed 54 subjects. One group was permitted to get a full night’s sleep, while the other remained entirely sleep deprived. After only one night of no sleep, the deprived group were significantly worse at interpreting emotions.
The scientists who conducted the research believe that sleep strengthens connections between brain regions involved in emotion. When these connections aren’t “reset” at night, your brain may not be able to correctly interpret facial cues.
The study focused on happiness and sadness, two emotional states that the scientists describe as “social.” Anger, fear, surprise and disgust are “threat perception” emotions, and were not impaired by lack of sleep.
William Killgore, Ph. D, one of the lead researchers, said that these danger-oriented emotions are more likely to be recognized even when sleep deprived because misinterpreting them could result in death.
Being able to tell whether or not the person you’re talking to is in a good mood isn’t really a life-or-death judgement. But not being able to tell the difference can have serious consequences for your social life.
If you are sleep deprived, it’s important to change the pattern. Those neural pathways that get burned out through lack of sleep can become viable again if given a chance. Much as it only took one night of zero sleep to lose the ability to differentiate between happiness and sadness, it only took one restorative night of full sleep to gain the ability back.
So if your social life is oddly anemic and you can’t tell why, it might be your sleep. Improved sleep may also result in weight loss, improved wellbeing and an overall boost to your health in general. The old benchmark holds true – most people need about eight hours of sleep to enjoy its full benefits.
How to get enough sleep? We all know the home remedies – no electronics for two hours before bed, no caffeine in the evening, black out your windows, wear earplugs, etc. One or all of these may work for you.