Lack of Sleep Impairs An Essential Social Ability

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Why the sleep-deprived can be more lonely and less social.

Lack of sleep impairs the ability to read facial emotions, a new study finds.

The study compared properly rested people with those who had been awake for 24 hours.

Professor Matthew Walker, one of the study’s authors, explained how the sleep-deprived fared on the test:

“They failed our emotional Rorschach test.

Insufficient sleep removes the rose tint to our emotional world, causing an overestimation of threat.

This may explain why people who report getting too little sleep are less social and more lonely.”

Brain scans also showed that the emotion-sensing parts of the brain could not even distinguish between friendly and threatening faces.

See below for an example: from friendly on the left to threatening on the right.

faces

Even sleep-deprived people’s heart-rates did not respond normally to both friendly and threatening faces.

Professor Walker said:

“Sleep deprivation appears to dislocate the body from the brain.

You can’t follow your heart.”

Those short on sleep tended to think both neutral and even friendly faces were actually threatening.

Professor Walker said:

“Recognizing the emotional expressions of someone else changes everything about whether or not you decide to interact with them, and in return, whether they interact with you.

These findings are especially worrying considering that two-thirds of people in the developed nations fail to get sufficient sleep.”

On the flip-side, the better people slept, the better they were at spotting emotional facial expressions.

Professor Walker said:

“The better the quality of dream sleep, the more accurate the brain and body was at differentiating between facial expressions.

Dream sleep appears to reset the magnetic north of our emotional compass.

This study provides yet more proof of our essential need for sleep.”

The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience (Goldstein-Piekarski et al., 2015).

Image credit: Simon Pais-Thomas & UC Berkeley

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Published: 22 July 2015

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License