How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Relationship
What is it about having an awful night’s sleep that makes everyone else so intolerable?
It seems that way, doesn’t it? You have a night of interrupted, fitful, downright bad sleep and the next day people are driving like they don’t have their licenses, are jabbing incessantly in the Starbucks line before you’ve had your coffee, or are asking you the same work question that you’ve answered a dozen times already. Is the universe just messing with you?
I suppose it’s possible. Maybe there’s a hidden camera somewhere capturing footage for Snapped, but a more likely explanation is that your lack of sleep is making it impossible for you to react rationally to frustrating – and even mundane – situations.
Researchers from The University of Arizona released a study back in 2006 that showed people who were deprived of sleep over a 55-hour period had…
- An increased tendency to blame problems on others
- Reduced willingness to alleviate a conflict situation by accepting blame
- Increased aggression
- Lower willingness to behave in ways that facilitate effective social interaction
I know this may not seem like especially earth-shattering news, but it speaks to a broader point about raising a child with your partner.
Imagine that you and your partner are the proud parents to a new baby (maybe you don’t even have to imagine this because you’re living it). Your lives are undoubtedly blessed, but with this gift comes mammoth responsibility. Parents (new parents especially) need to make an estimated one-zillion decisions a day when raising a child. And for every decision that has to be made, you and your partner need to come to some sort of an agreement that it’s the right way to go.
What time should we put him down?
What do we do when he starts crying?
Are we going to breastfeed? What happens if we aren’t able to?
How much should he eat?
Should I call the pediatrician?
These questions are just a drop in the bucket of the infinite number of scenarios that you will encounter in just the first few weeks alone! Every one of these presents an opportunity for disagreements and arguments.
You and your partner may have a fool-proof method for solving disputes, and you may have already agreed on a lot of the “big questions” before you even got pregnant. But as any parent knows, all those decisions are up for debate the second things start to go off the rails.
So here you are, faced with all of these decisions, you’re frustrated because things aren’t going as smoothly as you may have imagined, and to top it off, your ability to recognize and respond to your partner in a rational, civilized manner has been seriously compromised because you are exhausted.
Your problem-solving skills and conflict-resolution abilities are handicapped, but other aspects of your relationship are negatively affected by sleep deprivation as well. We don’t need a study to tell us that couples who are sleep deprived are less likely to show gratitude towards each other and are significantly more likely to feel under-appreciated. And as though that’s not enough, lack of sleep decreases libido which means that you will not be having sex as often, if at all. Many of the families I’ve worked with have told me that they’ve stopped having sex altogether since one of them is sleeping on the couch or the baby is in bed with them. When they do get a rare moment alone, they’re just too dang tried to even think about being intimate.
Of course, many couples get through this period of life with their relationship in tact – and are stronger for it. I’m not saying that a baby who isn’t sleeping well is going to lead to marital strife, but I am saying that it’s certainly not going to help.
Having a baby is truly magical. What can possibly compare to those first few months when you and your partner stand over the crib and look down at the precious life you’ve created, cultivated, and brought into this world together? It’s one of the most romantic experiences I can envision, and it’s a period in your life that deserves to be cherished. That’s not so easy to do if you and your partner are constantly bickering because neither of you is getting enough sleep.
There are certainly many reasons to make your little one’s sleep a priority when it comes to their wellbeing, but, in the spirit of the Valentine’s Day season, I’d ask you to take a “selfish” detour for a moment and consider what it could mean for you, your partner, and your relationship. After all, if there’s any gift you can give your child that is as (if not more) important as the gift of sleep, it’s seeing their parents united, happy, and in love.
So before you schedule couples therapy, before you move to separate bedrooms, before you even get into one more heated argument over which route to take to Grandma’s house or who left the eggs out on the counter after breakfast, try taking a week to commit to getting your little one sleeping through the night and see how you feel once everyone is getting the rest they need.
The results, I promise you, are nothing short of amazing.
Happy Valentine’s Day, folks. Sleep well!