Sleeping little alters the period of time that our gaze is fixed on the faces of others and can change the way we interpret the signals given by facial expressions.
Being sleepy and getting little sleep doesn’t just change our faces by leaving us with dark circles — it also changes the way we see other people. A new study published in Nature and Science of Sleep revealed that when we go many hours without sleep, we experience less time staring on other people’s faces.
Since eye contact is a crucial part of social relationshipsour interactions can potentially suffer when we are not getting enough rest.
The study sample consisted of 45 participants. In one week, participants spent a sleepless night and by the next week, they’ve slept all the eight hours they needed. In both circumstances, sensors were used that track the direction of the gaze.
Participants saw a mix of expressions ranging from happiness to anger, and were asked to determine whether they found people attractive, trustworthy, or healthy. The results showed that little sleep makes the face of someone angry seem less trustworthy and less healthy, while neutral or frightened faces look less attractive.
“Since facial expressions are crucial to understanding the emotional state of others, spending less time fixated on faces after acute sleep loss may increase the risk ofmisinterpret or too late the emotional state of others”, reveals sleep expert Lieve van Egmond.
Thus, the lack of hours of sleep can result in less motivation for social interaction, not only because of greater tiredness but also because of the impact it has on the way we see others, reveals the Science Alert.
Even with these results, the team states that more studies are needed with larger samples in order to understand the full impact of sleepless nights on social relationships.
“Our participants were young adults. We do not know whether our results can be generalized to other age groups. Furthermore, we do not know whether results would be similar among those who suffer from chronic sleep loss”, warns Egmong.