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Scientists Prove Sleep-Deprived Dads Go ‘Happiness Blind’

You can cope with the sleep deprivation that comes with being a dad like a Navy SEAL, but that still won’t help you read anyone’s facial expression, a new study suggests. The good news is your wife may not be mad at you. You’re just too sleepy to know one way or another.

The research, published in the journal Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, had participants look at pictures of the same male face expressing fear, happiness, anger, sadness, and disgust. The researchers morphed these emotions using a computer program for form combinations such as 70 percent sadness and 30 percent disgust, to create some ambiguity. A sample of 54 participants were shown a total of 180 blended expressions.

The good news is blatant expressions like 90 percent happy were easy to spot no matter how much sleep the participants got, so you can probably grasp your kid’s emotions just fine. But sleep deprived individuals (those who got less than 6 hours) struggled to correctly pick out subtle combinations — specifically of happiness and sadness. When they were tested again after a night of good sleep, the effect ceased. This confirmed the scientists’ suspicion that sleep was to blame for participants sucking at reading the room.

While the sample size was relatively small, findings echo past studies that show sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to recognize anger as well. And misunderstanding happiness, sadness, and anger can be a triple threat to your relationship. “Your spouse or significant other may need something from you and you’re less able to read that,” said William D.S. Killgore, a UA professor and lead author of the study. “To me, that is one of the biggest problems — how this affects our relationships.” If you can’t tell how your partner is feeling, play it safe and go to bed.