From emotional blowouts to a lower libido, a lack of sleep hurts often spells trouble for relationships. This article explain what happens to couples’ communication when quality rest suffers, and why you might improve your relationship with a better night’s sleep.
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The Emotional Impact of Sleep on Couples
A relationship’s health relies quite a bit on communication and emotions. This applies to both the ability to interpret those of your partner and to relay your own needs. Sleep proves important because it plays a major role on the brain’s ability to moderate your own emotions and process those of others accurately.
Reactivity and Sensitivity
A lack of sleep negatively affects cognitive function and amplifies emotions that we otherwise keep in check or ignore. They may say insensitive and inappropriate things, which cause stress and conflict in a relationship.
Those who sleep poorly are more prone to negative emotions, instead of happiness, helpfulness, and sensitivity to their partner’s needs. Sleep deprived individuals tend to be less agreeable, crankier and angrier.
Sleep deprivation makes people more distracted, reckless, less innovative, and willing to take dangerous risks. Those lacking sleep also prove less successful at conflict resolution and more prone to stress. When not operating on full battery, a person might be more likely to do socially or physically risky things they otherwise would avoid. All of this affects the quality of your relationship and the closeness you feel.
And when both parts of a couple miss out on slumber, it’s easy to see how this mix of insensitivity and oversensitivity creates problems.
Low levels of sleep impair decision-making skills. The executive functioning pre-frontal cortex manages high-level decision-making, the consideration of future consequences, the planning of goals, and the understanding of expectations. Decisions, including figuring out if your boyfriend or girlfriend is ‘The One’ depends on partners being well rested, with their brains refreshed and able to process complex information.
Overall, relationship decisions require a sophisticated sensitivity and an accurate assessment of future consequences. Sleep impairment affects optimal brain function. Meaning, you may be at risk for inaccurate mental processing, and insensitivity when dealing with your partner’s needs.
Sense of Humor
A sense of humor is rated as the number one way to attract and keep a romantic partner. But did you know that humour fluctuates with the amount of sleep you get? Humor requires high-level cognition, which doesn’t function as well on low levels of sleep. Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter for you and your partner (ok, that’s a bad joke! But the information is true).
A Two-Way Street
There is a bi-directional influence between happiness and sleep. Spouses with fewer sleep problems tend to be happier, and happier spouses tend to sleep better. Simply put, less sleep equals less relationship happiness. Many of the positive emotions you readily attribute to your relationship (or would like to) all closely tie into sleep quality. Sleep ties into how close you feel to your partner and how secure you feel in the relationship.
Beyond a lack of sleep, there may exist certain sleeping incompatibilities between couples. This may include not only snoring or moving around in the night, which wakes the other spouse, but also vastly different sleeping temperature requirements, mattress firmness, sleep-wake cycles, or work schedules. There are a number of options that couples can try to reconcile sleep differences.
For persistent snoring, a doctor visit may help, especially to determine if the problem relates to sleep apnea or a restricted airway. Otherwise, earplugs or sleep earphones may help temper noise disturbances. Dry air may be one culprit, and sleeping with a humidifier helps some people. A change in position for the snorer often helps, too.
Temperature and Light
For differences in temperature, extra blankets or layers of clothing may help the colder partner. Less clothing and a fan may help the hotter partner. Everyone benefits from breathable, natural fiber bedding made with materials like cotton and wool.
Darkness is best when it comes to rest, but some people find a television or lamp necessary. Sleep eye masks often prove essential for couples with different bedtimes or nighttime habits.
Firmness and Position Differences
Mattress firmness can be reconciled through a medium-firm compromise, mattress topper, or a split king mattress (two twin-XL halves set side by side). Split adjustable beds also offer a solution for airway-related snoring, acid reflux, and even firmness and position preference differences.
Some couples claim that physically closeness at night strengthens their bond. But, others insist they are much happier sleeping apart, and feel closer in the morning after they both wake up refreshed. If sleep differences can’t be reconciled, and one or both partners is suffering from lack of sleep which impacts daytime life, spending time in separate beds may just be the relationship saver you needed.
Lower Libidos and Time Spent in Bed
A lack of sleep results in lower energy, a lower libido, and less of an interest in sex. Obviously, this can increase tension and lessen desire in a relationship. Men with untreated sleep apnea may have lower levels of testosterone, too.
In couples, one partner’s sleeping issues may become a problem for both. If one person snores or sleeps restlessly, there is a good chance the other partner is suffering from secondary sleep quality issues from the movement and noise.
If couple go to bed and wake at different times, they may experience feelings of loneliness. Unresolved insomnia and sleep issues may cause resentment and jealousy of the other partner.
Women are more apt to receive treatment for sleep or other health related problems. Men are more reluctant to make appointments, preferring to tough it out. However for the sake of both partners, it is better to resolve issues, such as apnea and insomnia, which can lead to problems in the bedroom beyond intimacy.
Sleep deprivation may even impair physical attractiveness, leading to issues such as premature wrinkles and dark circles under the eyes. In one study, photos of well-rested participants rated more attractive than sleep deprived ones. Low sleep can also lead to weight gain, as the hormones that suppress appetite and signal fullness stop sending the right messages.
Physical attractiveness isn’t the most important element in a relationship, but it sure doesn’t hurt look and feel your best, even for personal confidence. So, be sure to get your beauty sleep!
What You Can Do
Watching TV and spending hours on electronic devices in bed negatively affects both sleep and sex. Make your bedroom a blue light free zone, so you can spend more time cuddling and getting needed sleep.
Follow the tenets of good sleep hygiene. These include getting regular exercise and sunlight exposure during the day, avoiding heavy food or alcohol use close to bedtime, and keeping bedrooms dark and cool. Set your bedroom up for sleep success with both a comfortable, supportive bed and quality bedding. Kick out sleep or intimacy stealers like electronics, bills, bulky pillows and other clutter or distractions.
Other helpful ideas might include evening journaling or jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos to clear out worries before bed. To destress, try listening to calming music, deep breathing or meditation, and following a calming routine such as an evening bath.
If you notice that a lack of sleep seems to be coinciding with more tension, try taking a sleep-cation and get some needed R&R to clear your heads. Most of all, ensure that both you and your partner get enough rest, and resolve any sleep problems before they become major psychological, health, or relationship issues.