Home»Divorce advice»Hitting the Snooze Button: How Lack of Sleep Affects Relationships

Hitting the Snooze Button: How Lack of Sleep Affects Relationships


We know that getting enough sleep is an important part of being healthy. My doctor tells me that persistent sleep deprivation can not only put a temperate damper on your brain performance and immune system, it can lead to more serious health problems down the road. What is relatively new to the discussion of sleep, however, is how it affects significant relationships, namely marriage.

Recent studies show that lack of sleep can impair important aspects of caring communication within marriage. Not getting enough shut-eye is shown to increase attitudes of selfishness and ingratitude regarding spouses, which in a broader perspective may eventually contribute to filing for divorce.

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Researchers at UC Berkeley studied 60 couples between the ages of 18 and 56 to see what kind of effect inefficient sleep had on feelings of gratitude.

In one version of the experiment, each partner kept a diary recording changes in sleep quality and the following interactions with their significant other. Another study videotaped the couples tackling problem-solving tasks together, evidencing that those who had a poor night’s sleep showed less appreciation to their partner. Results showed that in both experiments, sleep deprivation meant less thank-yous and decreased attentive validation between lovers.

As lead researcher Amie Gordon explains, “Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s.”

The Ills of Modern Life

The causes of not getting enough sleep are innumerable. Observe a typical city-dweller, corporate office worker, or yourself, and you’ll notice what busy lives we lead. From rush hour traffic to fast-food for dinner, everyone seems in a rush and strapped for precious time, not to mention the constant stimulation we receive from the technologies of internet and iPads. All of these things have the power to compromise sleep quality, and consequently our health and relationships in the process.

“Poor quality sleep and insufficient sleep can negatively affect mood and judgment, making us cranky and less apt to greet the inevitable ups and downs of life with perspective and an even keel,” says Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist and Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. This depletion of emotional willpower can leak into our most important relationships of all.

Sleep and Marriage

Married couples as well as people who have gone through the jarring divorce process may not attribute relational or marital problems to lack of sleep, and it rightly would be irrational to place a large part of the blame on it. But it’s the little things that count in the long run.

Lack of sleep could be a result of an individual’s lifestyle, a kind of busy life that is letting certain aspects of emotional and physical health fall to the wayside. Daily habits can turn into a vicious cycle of poor sleep leading to poor emotional health and neglecting the significant details of your romantic relationship, such as expressing the loving salve of gratitude. Taking the proper time to care for yourself, by doing things like maintaining healthy sleeping habits, will strengthen and renew other aspects of your life, including the relationships with those you love.

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