The Wall Street Journal examines the science behind how lack of sleep can upset a person’s emotional equilibrium.

Researchers have found that people who are sleep-deprived have difficulty reading the facial expressions of other people, particularly when the expressions are more subtle. They are less able to discern, for example, whether a spouse is annoyed or just serene.

People also are less emotionally expressive when they haven’t gotten enough sleep. They smile less, for example, even when they feel something is funny. Using neuroimaging, scientists are discovering certain patterns of brain activity that may be behind the emotional volatility that can be caused by lack of sleep.
“Few things come unhinged as quickly and profoundly as our emotional stability…when we are not getting enough sleep,” says Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Fatigue-induced misinterpretations and miscues can wreak havoc on relationships.

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