Why To Sleep Tonight: So You Don’t Strangle Your Spouse

I can personally vouch for this research finding: lack of sleep can turn a little spat with your spouse into a major emotional war.

According to a new study that asks the question, “Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights?” by researchers at U.C. Berkeley, couples who get a bad night’s sleep tend to fight more about their relationship. Psychologists Amie Gordon and Serena Chen conclude that without sleep, couples have a harder time managing conflict. The study was published online in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.



I can remember falling to the ground into a weepy ball during one exhaustion-fueled fight with my husband when our daughter was an infant. Indeed, everything seems much more bleak, and your partner seems far less sympathetic, at 3:30 am. Conflict-resolution skills go out the window.

Even without young children, I know loving couples who sleep apart as a way to keep their marriages in tact.

Here’s more on the Berkeley study from the news release:

Researchers collected data on the sleep habits of more than 100 couples who had been together, on average, for nearly two years. They gauged participants for depression, anxiety and other stressors in order to focus solely on the link between the couples’ sleep quality and relationship conflicts.

In one experiment, 78 young adults in romantic relationships provided daily reports over a two-week period about their sleep quality and relationship stresses. Overall, participants reported more discord with their partners on the days following a bad night’s sleep.

“Even among relatively good sleepers, a poor night of sleep was associated with more conflict with their romantic partner the next day,” Chen said.

In a second experiment, 71 couples came into the laboratory, rated how they had slept the previous night, and then, while being videotaped, discussed with their partners a source of conflict in their relationship. Each partner then rated his or her own and his or her partner’s emotional interactions during the conflict conversation, and assessed whether they resolved the disagreement.

The participants who had slept poorly and their partners reported feeling more negatively toward one another during the conflict discussion, according to observations and their reports. Their conflict-resolution skills and ability to accurately gauge their partners’ emotions also suffered after a bad night’s sleep.

And here’s more from Amie Gordon on sleep from her Psychology Today blog.

Readers, do you see a direct link between relationship stress and lack of sleep? How have you been able to manage this? Please let us know.

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  • LauraManor

    Make sure you both drink some chamomile tea at 9 pm! Warm milk and bananas are also helpful http://www.womentowomen.com/adrenalhealth/naturalherbal-sleeping-aids.aspx If you can both engage in sleep rituals and keep the same sleep schedule, it seems like these kinds of extreme problems could be avoided!

  • Sleepless in the andovers

    My husband and I are gong through this now…he is unemployed and is keeping “college student” hours (coming to bed around 3 AM). This can wake me up and sometimes I can’t get back to sleep for hours…usually I can function OK at work but I get super irritated at him…sometimes I just go to another room since hot flashes sometimes wake me up too….best for me to be by myself! If we have visitors it is tough because either of us can go to a different room!

  • concerned

    Less sleep may lead to less patience while in conflict with a partner. Less sleep is NOT an excuse of strangling an intimate partner. Violence is ALWAYS a choice and casually alluding to domestic violence happening as a result of less sleep is inappropriate and incorrect.