How much sleep-loss makes you ugly?

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

It's about 2.30pm and you're ready for your photo shoot. It's not exactly vogue - you're given a dark grey T-shirt to wear, have your hair pulled back, and you're not allowed any make-up. You take a seat, look straight into the camera and you're told to 'relax your face.' But at least you're feeling refreshed - for the two previous nights you've had a full 8 hours of sleep. The instructions from the researchers were to get to sleep sometime between 10pm and midnight, and to wake up somewhere between 6-8am.

So, when you come back to the lab a week later, things are a little different. This time you've been instructed to get 4 hours of sleep over the past two nights. Your instructions were to go to bed sometime from midnight to 2am and get up between 4-6am! Now, it's 2.30pm again and you're not so ready for the photo shoot: same T-shirt, same 'relaxed' face with no make-up.

So what was happening with these photos? And the photos taken of the 24 other people taking part in this study?

Well, you're being rated - by 122 members of the public (they even get a movie ticket for taking part). These people are rating your face on seven-point scale for:

  • sociability (How much would you like to socialise with this person?)

  • trustworthiness (How trustworthy is this person?)

  • attractiveness (How attractive is this person?)

  • health (How healthy is this person?)

  • sleepiness (How sleepy is this person?)

The Results

The raters were significantly less willing to socialize with the sleepy-you (compared to the refreshed-you). They also rated sleepy-you as less attractive and less healthy. In fact, the only thing that was unaffected by sleepiness was trustworthiness - sleepy-you was rated just as trustworthy as refreshed-you.


Sundelin T, Lekander M, Sorjonen K, Axelsson J. 2017 Negative effects of restricted sleep on facial appearance and social appeal. R. Soc. open sci. 4: 160918.