How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Relationship

Nutrition, Behavior & More

Why is it that everyone seems to be so hard to bear after you’ve had a miserable night’s sleep?

It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? When you’ve had a night of broken, interrupted, just plain lousy sleep, it seems the following day that people are just out to get you – drivers are slow or inconsiderate, the person in front of you in line can’t seem to decide what coffee they want to order, and your boss comes across as exceptionally oppressive.

You’re seriously thinking, “Is all of this a prank? Is there a sick joke of a YouTube video being made about me right now? Or did I just land on The Truman Show, and all of America is watching me on a camera somewhere?”

While I can’t say for sure that that’s not a possibility, I do know that a more likely reason is that the sleep you are lacking is making it impossible to view the normal, everyday occurrences of life in a rational way.

In a study done in 2006 by researchers from the University of Arizona, it was observed that people deprived of sleep over a 55-hour period displayed the following characteristics:

  1. A deeper inclination to blame others for their problems
  2. Decreased enthusiasm to solve a conflict situation by accepting blame
  3. Heightened aggression
  4. Less capability of behaving in ways that facilitate effective social interaction

Some of this may be more or less obvious to you, but it proves an even broader point.

Take this situation, for example. You and your partner have just brought your new baby home from the hospital. While you are excited and thrilled, the reality of it is that your small family is about to undergo drastic changes – the responsibility of a newborn is insurmountable, and the time and thought you’ll need to put into a child is huge.

And more than that, you’re not just dealing with the newborn, but also a whole new entity between you and your partner, making decisions for this new little life together.

  • What will be his bed time?
  • Do we pick him up every time he cries or let him cry it out?Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding?

These and so many more need to be answered, reevaluated, agreed upon, answered again, and so on in just the first few weeks at least.

And the possibility for a disagreement resulting in a full-blown fight is everywhere you turn.

Perhaps you have already built a healthy foundation on which you and your partner can solve any disputes, and all the questions that could possibly come up have been thoroughly researched and answered. But actually having the baby is a game-changer; depending on each child, your plan may need to be tossed out entirely!

These first few weeks with a baby in the house are crucial and trying. It’s nearly impossible not to fight with one another with such a huge life change, so many decisions to make, and such scary moments to face within just a few, short weeks. The frustration can easily mount, making it harder to respond civilly and rationally.

You’ve brought two entirely different personalities and backgrounds together to argue the most important decisions they may ever make, and it’s so easy to go right into blaming each other rather than taking responsibility.

Sounds atrocious, doesn’t it?

Additionally, Amie Gordon, a doctorate candidate in social-personality psychology at UC Berkeley, noted that sleep-deprived couples are more likely to be ungrateful to each other, and, on the flip side, also much more likely to feel under-appreciated.

And even more, you’re probably not having sex any more. Most likely, one of you is sleeping next to the baby to keep watch, and time for such a thing is simply just rare. And when there is some time, you’d both rather catch up on some much-needed sleep. Not to mention that lack of sleep decreases libido.

Many, many couples have made it through this stage successfully, even growing stronger as a result, so I’m not suggesting that your relationships is destined to fail as a result of sleep deprivation. However, a sleepless baby – and therefore, sleepless parents – certainly won’t help the marriage.

Newborns are a priceless treasure, and those first few months are absolutely precious. The moments you share with both your partner and the baby are worth more than any possession. But such an important stage cannot be properly cherished if you find you and your partner in continual battles because you’ve no time for sleep.

While you first want to make sure you’ve solved any problems concerning your baby’s sleep habits, you also must consider yourself. You’ll be nothing to your partner or your child if you don’t take care of yourself sometimes. The best thing you can do for your kids is to give them loving, happy, and united parents.

So, before you begin to address and attempt to solve all the results of sleepless nights by going to couples therapy or marriage counseling, or spending some time a part, or arguing more, address the problem at its source; commit together for at least a week to getting your sweet baby to sleep through the night. Then see how you both feel after being well-rested!

Once you’ve put such a decision in practice, the results will be life-changing and relationship-defining for both you and your partner.

Kahn-Greene, E. T., Lipizzi, E. L., Conrad, A. K., Kamimori, G. H., & Killgore, W. (2006). Sleep deprivation adversely affects interpersonal responses to frustration. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(8), 1433-1443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.06.002

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2014). The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(2), 168–175. https://doi. org/10.1177/1948550613488952


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