Skimping on sleep messes with you in many ways, from making your blood sugar tank to sabotaging work and fitness performance.
Skimping on sleep messes with you in many ways, from making your blood sugar tank to sabotaging work and fitness performance. Now you can add one more con to the list: It makes you terrible at reading certain emotions, a new study in the Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms suggests.
That’s what the researchers from the University of Arizona concluded after having 54 participants identify facial expressions from photos after sleeping normally, and then after being completely sleep deprived.
The results? Even one night of less-than-ideal sleep may skew your ability to discern happiness and sadness.
Sleep plays a vital role in recalibrating the emotional functioning of the brain by strengthening connections among various brain regions, the researchers believe. When it doesn’t get this reset, your brain may tap into resources that might have otherwise been used for accurate emotion recognition for other, more vital tasks.
As a result, your ability to ID subtle facial cues may suffer.
Now, emotions like happiness and sadness are considered “social emotions,” the researchers noted. They’re different from emotions tied to threat perception, such as anger, fear, surprise and disgust.
In the study, the participants were still able to recognize those four emotions accurately even when they were sleepy.
That might be because we’re wired to recognize those more primitive emotions in the case of danger, researcher William Killgore, Ph.D., said in a press release. Misreading those, in some instances, can actually be a life-or-death mistake.
On the other hand, simply not knowing when the person next to you is sad may not actually put yourself in any danger. But you may be at risk of being a jerk, because being about to “read” other people is part of social inclusion, according to the study.
Think about it—would your girlfriend be pleased if you can’t suss out when she’s feeling bummed?
The good news is that if you get back on track with your sleep, those brain connections important in identifying subtle emotions can start start buzzing again.
In the study, it only took one night of recovery sleep for participants to improve their emotion recognition skills.