Looking tired can impact your social life, claim researchers

Published: May 18, 2017


Never mind pale faces, wrinkles and red eyes. Missing out on sleep can harm your social life as well as your looks, researchers say.

Psychologists have found that people who get little sleep are not only regarded as less attractive and in poorer health but are also considered less appealing to socialise with, reported The Guardian.

The haggard, pasty looks of sleep-deprived individuals encourage others to steer clear of them. But looking rough is not enough to put people off, the scientists found. “If someone looks less healthy, you are more likely to withdraw from them,” said Tina Sundelin at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “However, that doesn’t explain the entire effect of not wanting to socialise with them. It’s one of the factors, but not the whole story.”

Getting better sleep feels as good as winning a $250K jackpot

Research has provided ample reasons to avoid the sleep deprived. A serious lack of sleep can make people less optimistic and less sociable, and dent their empathy towards others. They become worse at understanding and expressing emotions and more prone to accidents. Overall, they are more irritable. As Sundelin puts it, “If you can see someone hasn’t slept, you’ll have a good idea that they might not be the best person to be around.”

Also, as the researchers pointed out, being left alone might be precisely what a sleep-deprived person craves in order to recover. In the Royal Society journal Open Science, Sundelin and her colleagues wrote about how they photographed 25 people after two nights of normal sleep and after two nights of only four hours of sleep. They then asked 122 others to rate the photos for attractiveness, health, sleepiness and trustworthiness.

A couple of nights of insufficient sleep had no effect on the trustworthy aspect, but raters said they were less inclined to socialise with the sleep deprived, and considered them to be less attractive, less healthy and, of course, more sleepy.

The effects of sleep loss on social appeal were minor though. Having four hours sleep for two nights led to a mere 4% drop in social appeal. More important was how tired people looked, rather than the amount of sleep they actually got. The participants were 20-30% less keen on socialising with people who looked very tired. “If you want to go out and have a good time, it might not be much fun if the person looks really sleepy,” said John Axelsson, lead researcher.

This workout routine requires nothing but napping for 45 minutes

The new study builds on previous work from Axelsson and his colleagues at the Karolinska Institute. In one study, the team reported telltale signs of sleep loss in a group of people who stayed awake for 31 hours after only five hours of sleep the night before. They found a long list of facial clues: hanging eyelids, redder eyes, dark rings under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles and droopier mouths.

“Sleep loss has an impact on how other people judge you, so prioritising sleep is not a bad idea,” said Axelsson. “But one shouldn’t be too concerned. The effects are not large. It’s not that no-one wants to be with you when you’ve had too little sleep.”

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