Study Reveals How Poor Sleep Worsens Relationship Conflicts

Sleepless nights have a way of changing you... usually into one of two monsters. Behold, the sluggish zombie or raging super-bitch, spurred on by that all-nighter you swore you could survive. So, it comes with little surprise that the same lack of sleep can also worsen relationship conflicts, as researchers at UC Berkeley suggest.

Published in the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the study explored how poor sleep hinders couples’ ability to avoid and manage conflict. Researchers gathered data on the sleep habits of more than 100 couples who had been together, on average, for nearly two years. They checked participants for depression, anxiety, and other stressors in order to focus exclusively on the link between the couples' sleep quality and relationship conflicts.

In one experiment, 78 young adults in romantic relationships gave daily reports over a two-week period about their sleep quality and relationship conflicts. Overall, participants reported more tension with their partners on the days they had a bad night's rest.

"Even among relatively good sleepers, a poor night of sleep was associated with more conflict with their romantic partner the next day," said Chen, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

In a second experiment, 71 couples came into the laboratory. After rating how they had slept that night, couples were videotaped discussing relationship issues with their partner. Each partner then rated their individual emotional interactions during the conflict conversation, as well as of that of their partners. They were then asked to assess whether they resolved the disagreement.

The participants who had slept poorly reported feeling more negatively toward each other during the conflict discussion. Their conflict-resolution skills and ability to accurately gauge their partners' emotions also suffered after a bad night's sleep.

This study reflects how much biological needs factor into romantic relationships. So, what are we to do? Here are three tips to help you avoid relationship drama after sleepless nights:

1. Get some sleep. This is “duh” logic. There are occasions where you are swamped with work or plagued by insomnia, but more often than not, the reason we fail to get an adequate amount of sleep is because we make a choice. For example, I choose HBO (and we all know HBO doesn’t get good until at least 11 PM). I’m working on quitting this habit.

2. Never end the night on bad terms with your partner. This is another preventative measure. There are times when I would like to wring my boyfriend’s neck, but I will not go to bed without at least agreeing to disagree. Going to sleep anxious or angry encourages fitful rest and will only leave you further irritated in the morning. Talk it out so you can sleep better at night.

3. Establish boundaries. If you wake up wanting to off every living creature that scampers across your path, you've got to let your partner know; we all have off days.

Take this study as just another incentive to take care of yourself and get those eight (OK, at least six, maybe?) hours. When we compromise on something as something as biologically vital as sleep, we're putting a lot more than ourselves on the chopping block.