When was the last time you had a blazing row with your partner? Was it late at night? Were you both tired?
It turns out there’s a direct correlation between how much sleep we get, and how we fight with our loved ones.
Dr Justin Coulson, from happyfamilies.com.au explains it like this:
“What researchers have discovered is that our willpower becomes reduced when we’re one of four things: they spell out the acronym H.A.L.T. When we’re ‘hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we’re much more likely to respond with a lack of will power.
“At night time our ability to hold back, our ability to stop, show some self-control and some willpower is diminished because we’re tired, so instead of pausing and wondering if this is a sensible thing to say, we let them have it.”
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Dr Justin’s insight is confirmed by a new study by Ohio State University looking at how marital interactions impact on a person’s health. Every couple in the study experienced some conflict, but how they handled that conflict was influenced by how much sleep they’d had. Couples who had both slept for more than than seven hours argued more constructively, whereas couples functioning on less than seven hours sleep were more likely to be hostile toward each other.
Director of Ohio State Institute for Behavioral Medical Research, Janet Kiecot-Glaser says, “When people have slept less, it’s a little like looking at the world through dark glasses. Their moods are poorer. We’re grumpier. Lack of sleep hurts the relationship.”
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The study also found that if one partner got more rest, it could counteract the sleep deprivation of the other partner. Couples with one partner who slept well were less likely to get hostile than couples where both parties were overtired.
There are health risks that come with arguing while tired, too. The study showed that your conversation isn’t the only thing that becomes inflamed; it also causes inflammation in the body – a condition that, if it goes on long term, is linked with heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Better Way to Deal With a Night-Time Argument
Dr Justin Coulson suggests fighting couples should go to bed early, get a good night’s sleep, then get up 20 minutes early and resume their conversation in the morning when they have a clear head.
“Having a good night’s sleep seems to help us to be a little less hostile, a little more patient, a little more compassionate,” Dr Coulson says.
He suggests couples call a halt to the conflict and actually go to bed, rather than staying up and ruminating on it.
“You don’t say, ‘Alright we’re clearly in conflict, I’m going to go and stare at my Facebook feed, while you watch Masterchef.’ That’s not going to be helpful, because we do tend to just sit there and seethe.”
Instead, acknowledge that the conversation isn’t going well, give your partner a hug, and make a plan to deal with the problem the next day.
“You’re not enemies, you’re partners. You’re meant to be lovers and that means that we want to work things out together and not fight with each other,” Dr Coulson says.