You can’t sleep, so you pull out your phone and begin swiping through the dating apps. But all the photos just start to blur into one, and you slowly begin to feel like there isn’t a single person looking for their “partner in crime” who remotely appeals to you.
If this sounds at all familiar, try sleeping it off before swiping again.
According to a recent study, sleep deprivation might make other people appear less attractive to you than they really are. Essentially, researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden were curious if people would look at certain facial expressions longer depending on how tired they were, and how this may cause sleep-deprived individuals to withdraw from situations.
To test this, they recruited 45 young men and women and asked them to look at a series of 24 faces exhibiting happy, fearful, angry or neutral expressions, obtained from the Chicago Face Database, a free source of Midwestern faces for scientists studying social norms. Participants rated how attractive, trustworthy and healthy the faces appeared, both after a solid eight hours of sleep and again after staying up all night. Their eye movements were also tracked in order to gauge how long they looked at the expressions for.
Regardless of their expressions, faces were ranked less attractive, trustworthy and healthy overall when the participants looking at them were deprived of sleep. On top of that, eye-tracking data indicated that after being kept up all night, study subjects weren’t able to tolerate looking at faces for the same amount of time no matter what expression was displayed.
“The finding that sleep-deprived subjects in our experiment rated angry faces as less trustworthy and healthy-looking and neutral and fearful faces as less attractive indicates that sleep loss is associated with more negative social impressions of others,” Christian Benedict, an associate professor of neuroscience and senior author of the study, explained in a press release. “This could result in less motivation to interact socially.”
Lieve van Egmond, a PhD student in the Department of Surgical Sciences at Uppsala and co-author of the research, noted that “since facial expressions are crucial to understanding the emotional state of others, spending less time fixating on faces after acute sleep loss may increase the risk that you interpret the emotional state of others inaccurately or too late.” She added that because their study sample was small and limited to young adults, more research needs to be done. “Thus, we don’t know whether our results are generalizable to other age groups. Moreover, we don’t know if similar results would be seen among those suffering from chronic sleep loss.”
Since sleep deprivation has also been found to reduce collagen and human growth hormone production, making us objectively less attractive than we would be with a good night’s rest — maybe it’s our brain’s weird way of leveling the playing field after we’ve had a rough night. Or perhaps it’s our body’s way of telling us to go to bed alone when we’re desperately tired.
Either way, it’s always helpful to be well rested before making any important decisions, and now we know that includes determining if you think someone is hot.