This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Robin Goldstein.
When it comes to the subject of sleep, I am a fanatic. I’ll admit I am biased. I have always needed a lot of sleep — nine to 10 hours! — so it’s easy for me to notice the impact of a poor night’s sleep; I get short and irritable.
Still, it seems people can get used to sleeping with less and start to think it’s normal. I hear this kind of thing in my office all the time: “I’ve never slept well. I do fine on six hours a night. I have too much to do to sleep.”
Recent research confirms the negative impact too little sleep has on our relationships.
This study surveyed 100 couples, putting over 70 of them in a sleep lab, and found that many problems arose in their relationships after poor sleep habits, including more negative feelings, more conflict and less ability to manage conflict.
There is a simple explanation for this: our brains require sleep to function well! However, we humans are great at fooling ourselves: we think we are fine when we are actually not as well as we could be. How often do we hear from our partners, “You sure seem grouchy today.” And what’s our most common response? “What do you mean? I’m fine; what’s wrong with you?”
Perception, self-awareness and self-control all are diminished when we have less sleep. These are all critical skills involved in functioning well as a couple. We are more irritable, impatient and stubborn when we are short of sleep, and definitely not as much fun to be around. We take ourselves too seriously and are quicker to find fault with our partners.
Why Don’t We Take Sleep Seriously?
For many people, not getting a lot of sleep is a point of macho pride. They like to show off how little they need, seeing shut-eye as a sign of weakness. I find this pretty interesting, as we don’t usually see other biological needs as trivial. Boasting about how little you eat is a sign of a serious medical issue, and you don’t hear anyone puffing their chest out about how little they need sex or going to the bathroom. “I only want sex once every other month, or I can go all day without having to use a toilet!” Not too impressive, right? But not needing much sleep is somehow perceived as cool. It’s not.
It is true that people with demanding or physically exhausting jobs often have to come home and complete the “second shift:” taking care of children and completing domestic chores. There is often little time left over for our own comfort and relaxation: time to watch TV, read a book, talk to our mate or to friends on the phone. It can often feel there isn’t even enough time for sex or exercise. So what’s the easiest thing to cut back on? Too often the choice is sleep. We stay up later than we should, hoping to squeeze a little extra time into our day.
The Impact Of Too Little Sleep
The impact of poor sleep doesn’t always show up in obvious ways, which is why this study is so important. Our loved ones may be the first ones to suffer, but we also have to work harder to control our temper in our work environment. Cyclically, we bring these frustrations back home, slowly eroding our relationships. We don’t solve problems as well, we take offense more easily and have less energy to have fun when we are tired.
Make Sleep A Bigger Priority
When we place a bigger value on sleep, we are better able to set a reasonable schedule for ourselves. We turn off the TV earlier, save the laundry for another time and get home earlier from work. The benefit of these choices to our relationships can be enormous. When things are at peace with our partners, our entire lives are easier and better.
Poor sleep can often be a symptom of an underlying or unknown medical disorder. Doctors don’t always ask about our nocturnal habits or treat it seriously if we admit we don’t sleep well. If they do address the issue, they tend to prescribe sleep medications. Although some sleep medicines pose a risk of addiction, especially for those with a history of it, many sleep treatments are safe and effective.
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