Sleep deprivation deteriorates mood, impairs the recognition of facial expressions, and affects the ability to regulate emotions. The present study investigated the effect of partial sleep deprivation on facial responses to emotional stimuli. Thirty-three healthy undergraduates were tested twice: after a night with (i) 8h and (ii) 4h sleep. Self-reported sleepiness and sustained attention (Psychomotor Vigilance Task) were assessed. Emotional reactivity was measured with facial Electromyogram (EMG) while participants were asked to respond with either compatible or incompatible facial muscles to emotional stimuli in order to study whether partial sleep deprivation caused slower reactions mainly in response to incompatible stimuli (due to an additional effort to suppress the compatible reaction caused by decreased inhibitory control) or in response to both compatible and incompatible stimuli. Self-reported sleepiness and reaction times in a sustained attention task significantly increased after one night of partial sleep deprivation. Facial reactions to emotional stimuli were decelerated. No significant interaction between sleep restriction and compatibility of the muscle to the picture valence could be observed. Hence, volitional facial reactions in response to emotional stimuli were slower after one night of reduced sleep, but affective inhibitory control was not significantly impaired. However, slowed facial responding to emotional stimuli may affect social interaction after sleep restriction.
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