I used to dismiss “beauty sleep” as and old wives tale, but it turns out this tale has a lot of truth to it.

lack of sleep

“Telling someone they look tired says more about your perception of them than you might think,” the study starts. Image credits: Pixabay.

A couple of bad nights is all it takes to make you look less attractive, a new study has shown. Researchers recruited 25 university students, both male and female, to participate in a sleep experiment. They were given a kit to measure their night time movements, to check how long they have slept. They were asked to get two good nights’ sleep, and then two bad nights of sleep (maximum 4 hours).

Next, they asked 122 participants to look at photos of the participants and rate them in terms of attractiveness, health, sleepiness and trustworthiness. They were also asked how likely they would be to socialize with the participants. As it turns out, not getting enough sleep made participants score worse on all counts.

Basically, the less sleep participants got, the less attractive and healthy they appeared. To make things worse, it also seems that people are much more likely to avoid contact with people who look sleep-deprived. The study writes:

“The importance of assessing evolutionarily relevant social cues suggests that humans should be sensitive to others’ sleep history, as this may indicate something about their health as well as their capacity for social interaction. Recent findings show that acute sleep deprivation and looking tired are related to decreased attractiveness and health, as perceived by others. This suggests that one might also avoid contact with sleep-deprived, or sleepy-looking, individuals, as a strategy to reduce health risk and poor interactions.”

This makes a lot of sense in evolutionary terms. Basically, if you look more tired, you also look more unhealthy, and this might trigger some diseases-avoiding reactions in others — which would explain why people would avoid socializing with sleep-deprived people.

So as far as attractiveness is concerned, beauty sleep should be making a resurgence. However, researchers tell people they shouldn’t worry too much about this. Lead researcher Dr Tina Sundelin explained:

“I don’t want to worry people or make them lose sleep over these findings though. Most people can cope just fine if they miss out on a bit of sleep now and again.”

The study was well-received in the community. Dr Gayle Brewer, a psychology expert at the University of Liverpool and member of the British Psychological Society added that the study seems to make a lot of sense, as most of our attractiveness estimations are done unconsciously.

“Judgement of attractiveness is often unconscious, but we all do it, and we are able to pick up on even small cues like whether someone looks tired or unhealthy. We want our partners to be attractive and energetic. This study is a good reminder of how important sleep is to us.”

Journal Reference: Tina Sundelin, Mats Lekander, Kimmo Sorjonen, John Axelsson — Negative effects of restricted sleep on facial appearance and social appeal. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160918

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