If you have had a particularly nasty fight with your spouse or best friend today, consider this. How well did each of you sleep last night?
It may not come as a surprise that a good night’s sleep makes one feel calm and good natured the next morning. But how many of us consider the ramifications of poor or too little sleep one night on our behavior and relationships the next day? We may feel out of sorts, perhaps below our awareness radar, and that can lead to more difficult and even acrimonious interactions with those at work, in our daily routines and especially with our spouses. Even worse, it may affect our health.
A study at Ohio State University of 43 couples and how their bickering could influence their health tracked the subjects spouses most often argue over: managing money, spending family time together or an in-law intruding on their lives. According to an article in The New York Times Science section, “Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep” by Tara Parker-Pope, Sept. 4, the study revealed that some couples argue calmly, even constructively, while others were “hostile and negative.”
The difference? The hostile couples were likely not getting enough sleep, usually less than at least seven hours. So before you give up on a relationship, consider the sleep factor. With enough sleep, you will still have disagreements, but the tone of the conflicts will probably be more patient.
The Ohio State study goes further. It purports to measure how marital discord together with sleep deprivation can negatively affect a person’s health. The way the university measured for this possible toxic effect was by taking blood samples from both members of the couple before and after an argument. The samples measured the level of inflammation in the body because inflammatory proteins have been linked with heart disease, cancer and other health problems. The results showed that “marital discord is more toxic to your body when you haven’t gotten enough sleep.”
Interestingly, when one member of the couple got adequate sleep, it mitigated the negative tone of the conflict, even if the other member was sleep deprived. So that suggests “a half-a-loaf is better than none” conclusion.
The article goes on to reveal that some 25 percent of couples sleep in separate beds, presumably in order to get more undisturbed rest. “And when one relationship partner doesn’t sleep well, his or her partner is more likely to report poor health and well-being.”
In conclusion: “The lesson, say the study authors, is that before concluding a relationship is in trouble, couples who regularly experience conflict should take stock not only of the relationship and how they are managing conflict, but also of their sleep habits.” The study was published in the May edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, hardly most people’s bedtime reading but offering an article to better understand the universal need in a marriage for adequate sleep.
In addition to all the authoritative information above, I can offer another nugget in the advice for marrieds department. Mine is anecdotal, not academic. Disagreements don’t go well if one or both members of a couple are hungry. Hunger starts out as insidious rather than full blown, and so it is often hard to identify the mood change when in the midst of a difficult discussion or even in an idyllic setting. But hunger can forcibly affect one’s outlook and certainly one’s patience.
I found this to be particularly true with my husband. (I’m not making a gender specific allegation here, just sayin’.) We could be having a perfectly lovely time at the zoo or some other outing, and for no apparent reason, he would begin to get cranky. The level of his crankiness would rise as we continued to stroll. Fortunately I eventually figured it out and began to carry protein bars in my pocket. At the right moment, I would pull two out and offer him one. Within merely a couple of minutes, all was again right with the world.