Want to keep your relationship harmonious? Make sure you and your partner both get enough sleep—every night.
Sleeplessness interferes with our ability to manage conflict in relationships and makes us more likely to fight with our partners, according to new research. Even just one night of poor sleep can make couples more prone to conflict.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley investigated associations between poor sleep and conflict in romantic relationships. They examined the role of sleep in relation to several aspects of relationship discord, including the nature, degree and resolution of conflicts. Researchers conducted 2 different experiments using a pool of more than 100 couples who on average had been together for roughly 2 years. Both experiments revealed that poor sleep had an immediate and negative effect on degrees of conflict in relationships, on couples’ conflict resolution skills, and on partners’ feelings toward one another in relation to their conflicts.
The first experiment was what researchers described as a “daily experience study.” For 2 weeks, 78 couples provided daily reports detailing their nighttime sleep experiences and any relationship conflicts that occurred during the day. Couples reported more conflicts in their relationships on days that followed poor nights of sleep. Just a single night of poor sleep was associated with increased relationship conflict, even for those people who were generally good sleepers.
In the researchers’ second experiment, couples participated in videotaped discussions about sources of conflict in their relationships. Partners then rated their own behavior and their partners’ behavior, and assessed how well they’d resolved their conflicts. Individuals also provided details on their sleep from the night before. Researchers found:
This research is particularly interesting because of the steps taken to focus specifically on the relationship between sleep and relationship conflicts. Researchers took into account other factors that might contribute to conflict—including stress, depression, anxiety, low relationship satisfaction—in order to more thoroughly evaluate the impact of poor sleep. The results also build on previous findings from the same research team, who previously examined the effects of poor sleep habits on feelings of gratitude and appreciation between romantic partners. A study of 60 couples ranging in age from 18 to 56 found that poor sleep was associated with greater feelings of selfishness, and diminished capacity for gratitude and appreciation for partners. As in the latest research, poor sleep on the part of only one partner had a detrimental effect on the emotional outlook of both people in a relationship.
A growing body of research indicates that sleep is an important factor in the health and happiness of relationships. In recent years, a number of studies have shown that poor and insufficient sleep can have a negative effect on relationship. The good news is that studies have also shown that addressing sleep issues can help improve relationships:
As all couples know, sustaining healthy, long-term relationships takes work. Couples who take care to sleep well can help protect the loving, supportive emotional connections that can make these relationships so rewarding. The quality of our sleep and the quality of our most important relationships are deeply linked—make it for better, not for worse.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor®
Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep™