The Effects Of Lack Of Sleep On Relationships

4 min read

Last Modified 1 June 2023 First Added 2 January 2018

By Gemma Curtis

Lack of sleep makes us irritable, snappy and more emotional than usual. So, it’s no surprise that continuous poor sleep can lead to relationship troubles. A study by Ohio State University showed that the effects of lack of sleep can be linked to breakdowns in relationships. So, before you start researching relationship counsellors, consider getting a good night’s sleep!

Bad arguments

In the Ohio State University study, participants were videoed during arguments about recognised issues in their relationships such as money and communication. During the arguments scientists measured changes in the body such as proteins IL-6 and TNF-alpha. If the levels of these markers rise, inflammation in the body can occur, making the likelihood of developing chronic diseases like diabetes greater.

The study showed that couples who had both slept less than 7 hours ‘interacted in a more hostile way than when at least one partner slept more’. If one partner had enough sleep, the arguments were more likely to end with a positive or constructive result.

So, when working through stressful times with your partner, it can help to consider how much sleep you’ve had. In an article discussing the study, The Guardian said, ‘Sleep affects the parts of the brain that solve problems. Without that ability, it is hard to have a “good” row, which requires active listening, good humour and self-disclosure.’

Couple arguing

Impaired decision making

All relationships require decisions to be made. Whether that’s what to have for dinner or when to introduce your new significant other to your family, it’s a part of everyday life in a relationship.  Unfortunately, with actions come consequences, and making the wrong choice in a major decision can harm a relationship.

According to Psychology Today, sleep plays a huge part in the effectiveness of the pre-frontal cortex. This area of the brain controls ‘executive functioning’ which is responsible for high-level decisions, considering future consequences, goals and expectations. PT says, ‘Sleep deprivation, however, makes us easily distracted, reckless, less innovative, and less able to integrate information, not to mention potentially more willing to take dangerous risks’. Not the ideal headspace for making life-changing decisions!

No thanks

According to studies conducted by the University of California, sleep deprivation was found to reduce feelings of gratitude. Acknowledging the things others do for us is an important part of relationships. Lead author of the studies, Amie Gordon told Prevention, ‘it can become easy to forget everything the other person does for us’.

In the studies, participants answered questions which measured how much gratitude was felt in their relationship such as whether they noticed the thoughtful things their partner did for them. This was combined with information about their sleep habits.

The psychologists concluded that those who slept better overall were more thankful. If one partner was sleep deprived, there was a lack of gratitude from the partner who slept better. The poor sleeper then recognised this lack and felt underappreciated by their partner.

Showing our partners we care and are grateful for the things they do for us, is vital in any healthy relationship.

Couple hugging

How to fix it

You first need to identify why you’re not sleeping well. Does your partner snore? Are you stressed/ depressed? Is your sleep pattern irregular?

If you can’t identify the problem at first, don’t worry. Try logging a sleep journal, writing down what time you go to bed and get up and include any details of how you slept. This should help you notice a pattern and identify where your sleep issues may lie. Sleep journals are also great for getting intune with your body, but we recommend that you don’t do yours just before bed as it may create anxiety around your sleep quality.

Next, ensure your bedroom is a comfortable space. Check you have the right mattress and pillow for you, the room is a nice temperature and there’s no light or noise seeping in to wake you up.

For further help on sharing sleep spaces with your partner, read these articles:

How Can Couples Promote Positive Sleeping Habits in Each Other?

Does Partner Sleep Strengthen Your Relationship Bond?

Remember, we’re not ourselves when we’re overtired. Do yourself and your relationship a favour and get some proper rest! Let us know how you get on in the comments.

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