Sleep deprivation makes people look less healthy and less attractive

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As Christmas approaches, the bods at the British Medical Journal have a tradition of publishing an edition filled with more lighted-hearted fare than is usual. Perusing today’s copy my eye was caught by an article entitled ‘Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people’ [1]. In this study, 23 individuals were photographed after 8 hours sleep, and then again after being up for 31 hours after 5 hours of sleep.

The photographs were then rated by untrained observers according to perceived health, attractiveness and tiredness. After shorter sleep and extended wakefulness, individuals were rated as being less healthy, more tired and less attractive.

Sleep deprivation is linked with a variety of adverse effects on health, including enhanced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In the short term it can impact on physical and mental function and performance.  Now this research suggests that some of the impact of not getting enough sleep is all too obvious to other people.

One environment where this might matter quite a lot is in business. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to suggest that, generally speaking, people like working with, communicating with and doing business with people who appear fit and fresh. Could it be that some ‘sleep debt’ might therefore impact indirectly on business because of the perception individuals have of those who are sleep deprived? It’s possible.

Earlier this week I met a businessman who, by anyone’s standards, works long hours and gets precious little sleep. He told me that he sometimes sits in meetings and has to jab a biro into the palm of his hand to stop him falling asleep. His effectiveness is clearly compromised as a result of lack of sleep, and it occurs to me that his colleagues and clients will have noticed this too.

For many busy people, sleep is seen as a bit of a luxury, and is often the first thing to become squeezed when the pressure is on. Today’s research in the BMJ reminded me that sleep is far from a luxury, and vital function in keeping us energised and healthy. When advising people about their health, I quite often find myself suggesting that one simple thing they can do to enhance their wellbeing is turn off the TV/shut down the computer and ‘GO TO BED’.

For more about the benefits to be had from sleep, and why getting more sleep might well be a brilliant new year’s resolution, see this post.


1. Axelsson J, et al. Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people. BMJ 2010;341:c6614

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