However, it is clear that lack of sleep affects more than our attractiveness. It also affects our ability to make coherent decisions, operate machinery and complete everyday tasks.
Evidence for sleep’s aesthetic bonus (taken from a recent research project in Sweden) has been published in the Christmas issue on bmj.com. The study, led by John Axelsson from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, investigated the relationship between sleep and perceptions of attractiveness and health.
Twenty-three people between the ages of 18 to 31 took part in the study. They were photographed between 2pm and 3pm on two occasions, once after normal sleep (8 hours) and once after being deprived of sleep (31 hours of wakefulness after a night of reduced sleep). No alcohol was allowed for two days before the experiment.
The photographs were taken in a well-lit room and the distance to the camera was fixed. During both photography sessions participants wore no make-up, had their hair loose (combed back if they had long hair) and were asked to have a relaxed, neutral facial expression for both photos.
Sixty-five observers, who were blinded to the sleep status of the subjects, rated the photographs for attractiveness and whether the individuals looked healthy/unhealthy or tired/not tired.
The observers judged the faces of sleep-deprived participants as less healthy, less attractive and more tired.
Are we just stating the obvious about the importance of sleep? It is easy to tell by sight alone when someone is tired or not well, which this study is said to prove. The implications for our health are not as easy to see as under eye shadows and droopy eyelids and are far more worrying.
The authors believe their topic of research is becoming ever more important considering the rise in stress, disturbed sleep and the ongoing trend of ours to try and wring every last possible moment of usefulness from each day. Sleep disorders are also on the rise.
If you would like to read the paper associated with this story please visit http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.c6614