Guest Post: Fighting with Your Partner? Better Sleep Can Help

In my blog about boosting resilience, I mentioned sleep as a key factor. Here is a guest post from sleep expert Sarah Johnson of Tuck about how sleep helps reduce conflict.

sleeping dogs prevent conflict

Relationships are full of ups and downs. Arguments are a normal and healthy part of life. However, if fighting has become the most common form of communication between you and your partner, there might be more at work than differing opinions. Sleep, or lack thereof, could be fueling for your arguments. If one or both of you struggle to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep, the development of good sleep hygiene could help de-escalate disagreements.

Sleep and the Brain’s Emotional Center

Various areas and regions of the brain are used for different tasks. The emotional centre of your brain, called the amygdala, processes outside events and situations as well as your internal emotions. This part of the brain becomes more active and oversensitive to negative stimuli when you get less than seven hours of sleep. Things you may normally ignore might suddenly feel argument worthy.

Applying Reason to Emotion

The amygdala does not act alone in determining your responses to events, thoughts, and emotions. The prefrontal cortex controls executive functions like decision-making, logic, and reason. When you’re well rested, it helps balance out your emotions with logic. However, when there’s a lack of sleep, activity in the prefrontal cortex goes down. Its connection to the amygdala also weakens, leaving you more susceptible to emotional decisions.

The Changing Moods of Sleep Deprivation

These key changes in the brain cause the moodiness often associated with sleep deprivation. Irritability, anger, aggression, and sadness become amplified without sleep. Stress, whether it comes from your relationship or other sources, also goes up. Chronic sleep loss may also increase your chances of developing mental disorders like anxiety or depression. Lack of sleep simply makes it more difficult to manage your emotions.

So, better sleep helps reduce conflict, but what can you do to improve the amount of time you sleep and your sleep quality? Develop good sleep hygiene.

Developing Better Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene includes everything in your life that contributes to the quality of your sleep, from habits and behaviours, to your sleep environment. If you live your life in a way that supports good sleep, you’ll not only be maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but you’ll bring the emotional stability you need for a better relationship with your partner.

  • Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep Sanctuary: Your sleep space needs to be an escape from the outside world, which means it’s not the place for a home office or gym equipment. Your mattress should be comfortable and support the preferred sleep position of both you and your partner. If you’re both tall or weigh more than average, you may need a firmer mattress for better support and comfort.

  • Reduce Stress Before Bed: Reducing stress before bed can help you sleep better (and decrease arguments). Five to ten minutes of mindfulness meditation can be enough to call mind and body for better sleep. Studies have shown that meditation can reduce the size of the amygdala and strengthen its connection to the prefrontal cortex, providing better emotional stability.

  • Avoid Stimulants and Electronics: Televisions and other electronic devices give off a bright light that suppresses sleep hormones. Stimulants like caffeine can block sleep hormones. Both should be avoided within a few hours of bedtime.

  • Be Consistent: A consistent sleep-wake schedule regulates the release of sleep hormones. Go to bed and wake up at the same time even on weekends to help yourself to fall and stay asleep.

Sleep alone may not stop all your arguments, but it can help calm emotions so you can address issues in a productive way. A commitment to better sleep acts as a commitment to your relationship, and both are worth it.

Tuck 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 NBC News, NPR, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.