- New research shows that poor sleep quality leads to increased anger and decreased relationship satisfaction.
- Researchers examined the interconnections among sleep, anger, and relationship quality in three studies.
- The authors recommend interventions to improve both sleep quality and relationship quality.
New research published this month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships by Audigier and colleagues found that poor sleep quality is linked with increased anger and decreased perceptions of relationship quality.
Previous research has suggested that poor sleep quality and quantity are associated with negative outcomes, such as difficulty with problem-solving, reduced emotional intelligence, and increased negative moods.
The current series of studies by Audigier et al. (2023) explores one mechanism that may drive the negative effects of poor sleep quality on relationships: Worse sleep might lead to increased anger, which might then negatively impact our intimate relationships.
The authors performed three studies, including a correlational study, a longitudinal study, and an experimental study examining the interconnections among sleep quality, anger, and perceived relationship quality. They examined these factors in almost 700 participants from the U.S. and the U.K.
The participants were primarily of White/European backgrounds and reported being in either committed dating relationships or marriages. Via self-report instruments, the researchers measured sleep quality, feelings of anger, and perceived relationship quality.
Through the correlational study, the researchers found that although there was a direct effect of poor sleep quality on reduced relationship satisfaction, anger fully mediated this effect. Therefore, the researchers proposed that poor sleep quality causes increased feelings of anger (perhaps due to increased activation of the amygdala and/or reduced activation of the prefrontal cortex), and thus, poorer relationship outcomes.
Similarly, through the longitudinal study, the researchers found that “people who experienced worsening changes in their sleep quality across a given month…experienced increasing anger, and, thus, reductions in their perceived relationship quality.” They also found that the relationship between relationship quality and sleep was reciprocal.
Just as worse sleep at time 1 predicted worse future relationship quality, better relationship quality at time 1 also predicted future better sleep, although this latter relationship did not seem to be driven by changes in anger.
When examining couples, although one partner’s sleep quality was weakly associated with the other partner’s relationship satisfaction, one’s sleep quality was more strongly related to their relationship satisfaction than their partner’s sleep quality.
Finally, the authors experimentally manipulated affect (through reading scenarios and imagining one’s reactions to those scenarios, such as spilling coffee or forgetting keys) among poor sleepers and better sleepers. They found that among those who had slept poorly and were led to feel angry, perceptions of relationship quality declined, even though the anger induction was not related to relationship issues. Individuals who slept better, on the other hand, reported more positive feelings, as well as more positive evaluations of their romantic relationships.
The authors suggest that lesser quality sleep is associated with more intense negative feelings, especially anger. Furthermore, when we express these negative feelings to our partners, it might spark reciprocal anger from them, which then leads to worse relationship satisfaction and quality. Audigier and co-authors also suggest that poor sleep quality might lead couples to make more hostile attributions for their partners’ behaviors (inferring malicious intent where none exists).
The authors point out that many relationship events can cause poor sleep, such as becoming parents, transitioning through menopause, or increased stress. Audigier et al. recommend interventions designed to improve sleep (such as reducing caffeine consumption or practicing relaxation techniques) to improve both sleep quality and relationship quality.
The researchers suggest that future research examines whether chronic sleep deprivation might be a risk factor for divorce. They speculate that short-term sleep disturbances may not impact romantic relationships over the long-term, but that persistent sleep disturbances could cause compounding difficulties in long-term relationships.
Audigier, A., Glass, S., Slotter, E. B., & Pantesco, E. (2023). Tired, angry, and unhappy with us: Poor sleep quality predicts increased anger and worsened perceptions of relationship quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 02654075231193449. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/02654075231193449