Although today’s woman prides herself on being able to do it all while looking good no matter how much sleep she gets, there was a time that women believed in the need for “beauty sleep.” It may seem like the epitome of an old wives tale, that sleep can make you more attractive, but a new study completed in Sweden has shed new light on this old adage. It turns out that our grandmothers may have known what they were talking about when it comes to the affect sleep has on how we look.
Sleep research has established links between sleep and our metabolism, sleep and our immune system, and even sleep and our brain’s ability to function. But can sleep or the lack of it actually affect how attractive we are? That was the question a team of researchers at the Medical institutet Karolinska in Stockholm set out to answer in this study.
In order to determine the impact sleep has on attractiveness, the team took photographs of participants under different sleep conditions and then asked others to rate their attractiveness. The intent of the study was to determine if lack of sleep made people seem less healthy, less attractive, and less approachable. First, a group of 23 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 31 were photographed after getting a good night sleep (8 full hours). The photographs were shown to a second group of participants made up of 65 regular people acting as observers. The observers were asked to rate each of the photographs in terms of how healthy the person in the picture looked, how attractive they were, and how tired they looked.
Next, the first group of participants was deprived of sleep over the course of two days. The first night, they were only allowed a small amount of sleep and then they were kept awake for 31 hours. Again, each participant’s picture was taken and the observers were asked to rate each picture based on health, attractiveness, and level of tiredness.
The results of the study showed that to untrained observers, people who are sleep deprived appear to be more tired, less healthy, and less attractive. The findings reinforced the results of a previous study by this same research team that indicated humans are able to perceive sleep deprivation in other people. These findings are also in line with previous research that established a link between perceived beauty and overall health. These links suggest that people who don’t get enough sleep may be subjected to unconscious judgments by the people around them including coworkers, partners, employers, and even medical professionals. This kind of judgment can impact how people react and respond to each other including what kind of medical treatment a provider may recommend and whether or not an employer will decide to hire someone. In order to understand the true long range impacts of sleep deprivation on this aspect of our lives, additional research needs to be done in this area.