How Sleep Affects Our Health and Relationships


By Agnes Green

The following article is a Guest Blog Post created by Tuck Sleep Foundation exclusively for readers of Nutrition Nuptials. Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web. For more info, visit and follow on Facebook and Twitter

People spend roughly a third of their lifetimes in bed. That’s a lot of time! It is smart to periodically take stock of the implications of the quality of your bedtime for your health and relationships. 

Scientists tell us that insufficient and poor quality sleep are risk factors for issues that include weight gain, the common cold plus other infections, hypertension, and a host of illnesses. According to an expert sleep health researcher and professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Matthew P. Walker, “there is not a single tissue in the body that is not beneficially affected by sleep.” Indeed, there isn’t an aspect of your physical, emotional, and mental life that does not profit from healthy sleep.

Think of this reality as pointing to an opportunity. It is true in general that if you improve the quality and the quantity of your sleep, it can have a restorative, healing, and energizing effect on the rest of your life. This applies to both your health as an individual and the health of your relationships.

Let’s consider how sleep affects your overall health and relationships and then talk about how you can get more healthy rest.

Sleep and Self-Control

People who are sleep deprived tend to be more impulsive, less able to focus, and more prone to making poor decisions. Their self-control suffers. In fact, scientists found that the effects of not getting enough sleep on a regular basis tend to be the same as being impaired by alcohol consumption. When we are exhausted, our reaction times suffer and our judgment is impaired.

Sleep deprivation is linked to a decrease in brain activity, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and thalamus, regions responsible for alertness, attention, and higher-order cognitive processes, all of which are needed in sound decision-making.

As a result of impaired judgment and greater propensity to give in to impulses, all sorts of activities that require self-control suffer. In a sleep-deprived state, our brains experience a significant dropoff in the frontal cortex activity, the part of the brain where we consider the consequences of our decisions and opt for what’s good for us in the long run rather than choosing fleeting but ultimately detrimental satisfactions. That is why, for example, scientists tell us that when we don’t get enough sleep on a consistent basis, it is harder for us to maintain a healthy weight. A sleep-deprived brain is both more easily wooed by junk food and has less resistance to resist the temptation to eat unhealthy foods.

sleep and relationships

Sleep and Relationships

Related to this is the insight from researchers at University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. They found that when deprived of sleep, the brain reverts back to more primitive patterns of activity. The way this manifested in the study is that subjects kept awake were less likely to put emotionally-charged information in context.

Difficulty putting potentially distressing data in context feeds yet another foe of health–stress and anxiety. Sleep loss plays a role in ramping up brain regions that trigger excessive worry, and it boosts anticipatory anxiety–worrying about something undesirable happening (not being able to fall asleep, or having a fight with a partner, etc.). When we give in to anticipatory anxiety, it can sometimes act like a self-fulfilling prophecy and we can end up inadvertently bringing on the very thing we feared (lack of sleep, fight with a partner, etc.).

Fatigue makes couples more susceptible to discord. “Couples experience more frequent and severe conflicts after sleepless nights,” according to a study from UC Berkeley published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

There are times when we are particularly vulnerable to poor choices. The acronym HALT provides an easy tool to remember those states. When we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, mental health professionals advise that it’s best to be on guard against making big decisions or acting on impulse. So when you find yourself wanting to make a sudden change in your relationship, it’s worth it to stop and think. Be mindful. Ask yourself whether it’s been building for a long time and whether you happen to be hungry, angry, lonely, or sleep-deprived.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research tested couples for stress-related inflammatory responses, which had been linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis. They found that in and of itself, sleep loss did not necessarily mean that study subjects would show higher inflammatory responses. The couple’s dynamic mattered, too. The inflammatory responses were present if they had a stressful conversation with a partner. If, however, one of the two partners had enough sleep, neither of the partners showed a higher inflammatory response. Also, if the couple talked about their disagreement in a healthy way–by communicating openly and not withholding–that, too, helped keep down the stress markers. Of course, self-control–the very thing that improves with sleep and deteriorates with sleep deprivation–is needed in healthy, respectful, loving communication.

“People who slept less in the past few nights didn’t wake up with higher inflammation, but they had a greater inflammatory response to the conflict. So that tells us less sleep increased vulnerability to a stressor,” said lead researcher Stephanie Wilson.

How To Get More Sleep–So You and Your Relationships Can Be Healthy

Knowing that getting good sleep contributes to better overall health, self-control, decision-making, and healthier relationships is useful information for you and your partner. If you have trouble sleeping, try finding ways to get better rest in addition to working on other aspects of your health and relationship.

Even if you incorporate only some of the aspects recommended sleep hygiene, they are bound to make a difference and make your life and relationships healthier, happier, and more peaceful. Give these tips a try:

  1. Sleep in a slightly cool, dark, and quiet room.

  2. Invest in a comfortable mattress.

  3. Avoid TV and screen time two hours before bedtime. The blue light in them has been shown to have rousing effects.

sleep and relationships

Image Source: Collective Evolution

  1. Try to go to bed at the same time each day.

  2. Keep active during the day. Exercise will help you sleep and stay healthy.

  3. Avoid alcohol two hours prior to bedtime. Never use it as sleeping aid. While it can help you fall asleep faster, the arousals it produces can lead to poor quality sleep or awakenings, which will leave you tired during the day.

  4. If your partner snores, sleep with earplugs or consider other options to make sure you get your sleep.

  5. Look into establishing a mindfulness meditation practice. It could be something you learn as a couple.

Related: The Art of Written Mediation

Agnes Green is a researcher for Tuck Sleep, a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene and health.

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Facebook: @tucksleep

Twitter: @TuckSleep


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