In a relationship? Ten reasons why good sleep matters
What do you want in a relationship? What makes being together good? A shared sense of humour, a sexual spark, knowing that the other person is there for you?
We are attracted to another person when there’s a spark between us. Energy. In a good relationship we enjoy being together, listen to what the other has to say, laugh at each other’s jokes. We know that when we sleep poorly we tend to be more irritable, forget things, lose our tempers and make rash ill-thought-out decisions. We also eat and drink more, get sicker, and are much more likely to get depressed or anxious. Yet you may be surprised by quite how much the quality of our sleep affects the quality of our relationships. Changing our sleep can be a powerful way to change our relationship.
1. Maximise Attraction
The quality of our sleep can affect whether or not we get together in the first place. Sleep poorly, and we are less attractive. It doesn’t take much — a 2017 study compared perceptions of a group of 18–47 yr olds from Stockholm University using photographs taken after unrestricted sleep (average 7 ½ hours) and two nights of restricted sleep (just 4 hours). The same people were perceived as less attractive, less healthy, and other people were less likely to want to socialise with them after a short night. There’s a reason it’s called “beauty sleep”.
2. Better Sex
What about sex? In men, poor sleep is linked to more unsolicited sexual arousal — more erections, a stronger response to porn. But not more sex. And it is also linked to erectile dysfunction, and less sexual satisfaction for both genders. In women, libido increases with good sleep. A recent study showed that with one hour’s extra sleep sexual activity rose by 14%. Good sex, and orgasm in turn improve sleep quality.
3. Nicer people
We all know that we become irritable when we are short of sleep, but we may not realise quite how damaging this is. When we are sleep deprived our brain goes into survival mode. The amygdala, which controls our immediate emotional reactions, is triggered, and our prefrontal cortex, which puts a break on impulsiveness, is impaired. Result: we overreact. We snap, become irritable, experience heightened fear and anger. We are at the mercy of our feelings. It is exhausting and draining both for us and those who love us and are the recipients of our volatile behaviour.
4. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
During REM sleep we process our experiences and memories, make sense of them, and learn. Without enough REM sleep negative experiences interfere. With short sleep we simply don’t get the emotional reset that we need for our emotional well-being. And guess who else suffers? Those closest to us.
5. Remembering birthdays and anniversaries
Both REM sleep and deep slow wave sleep are vital for memory consolidation. Different types of memory are stored in different ways, and sleep difficulties can cause quite specific types of poor memory. As a chronic insomniac, my memory for facts remained good. But I would constantly lose my keys and double book appointments. Now, as someone who learnt how to sleep in my 50s, I lose my keys far less and rarely double book. A marked difference. If you want to remember things that are important to you and your partner, you need to sleep well.
6. Gratitude and Appreciation
Several studies at the University of California considered the effect of sleep quality on gratitude. They showed that people tend to feel less grateful toward their romantic partners if either person generally sleeps poorly. “Poor sleep is not just experienced in isolation,” says lead researcher Amie Gordon “Instead, it influences our interactions with others, such as our ability to be grateful.”
7. Less Conflict
Relationships suffer from worse conflict when either person is sleep-deprived. People who sleep poorly tend to display more negative emotions and are less successful at conflict resolution. Disagreements are normal, but poor sleep may mean that they are harder to resolve and more stressful.
8. Decision Making
Relationships demand decisions. During the day our prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functioning, works hard. It recovers during slow wave deep sleep. If our sleep is poor our ability to focus and think flexibly and creatively about the future and what is good or bad is affected. We can’t make good decisions, are easily distracted, less able to integrate information, and reckless. That’s not a good recipe for relationship harmony. It is likely to damage trust and lead to an imbalance between partners.
9. Staying Well
Life is more fun and generally more rewarding when we and those we love are healthy. Sleep is a huge factor in our health, with a lack of deep slow wave sleep roughly doubling our risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia, and escalating our risk of mental illness. It is hard being ill, and it is hard watching a loved one suffer, and a sense that illness was avoidable adds an extra burden for both people.
10. Laughing at each other’s jokes
Number one reason for attraction? “He /she makes me laugh”. Yet our sense of humour fluctuates depending on whether or not we slept well. Appreciating verbal humour requires high-level cognition, and a lack of sleep inhibits this.
Poor sleep, relationships, and Zeez Sleep
In a relationship, one person’s poor sleep usually affects the sleep of the other person. If we are lucky enough to sleep so deeply that we are not affected by our partner tossing and turning, getting out of bed, or reading, we are likely to worry about them, and to suffer the effects of their lack of sleep. Poor sleep can affect relationships at any age. As a young adult, I couldn’t share a bed, or at least, I couldn’t couldn’t share a bed and sleep. I’d lie awake, rigid, terrified of waking my partner, lonely, increasingly resentful, desperate, and self-critical. I wish that I had known how to make it better, and I am sure that my poor boyfriend would have done anything to help. As it was, he warmed my feet, made me coffee in the morning and gin and tonic at night, and we both suffered the impact of my insomnia. In contrast, this is Beth, fresh out of University, talking about the sleep device developed and tested by engineer Stave Walpole and me.
“Before using the Zeez Sleep Pebble, I would find myself listening to Kaleb fall asleep, staring into the darkness for a couple more hours. Since using the Zeez, those hours have reduced drastically; so that our sleep is quite synchronised. I don’t have to look over at Kaleb enviously and going to bed doesn’t feel like a chore any more. It is so nice sharing the same sleeping pattern.”
I love listening to Michael Richards, Tai chi teacher, and his wife of 30 years, Gabrielle, a naturopath. Michael:
“After Gabrielle had used the Zeez there was a shift in the way she was. She was more relaxed, more at ease. it made a big difference to our relationship. It was really fantastic to see. What could be better than being relaxed together.”
One of the most powerful things that we can do to improve our relationships is to improve our sleep. Or to help our partner to change their sleep.
Anna McKay 2019
1. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.160918 Negative effects of restricted sleep on facial appearance and social appeal
2. http://auanet.mediaroom.com/2018-05-20-Research-Connects-Poor-Sleep-Quality-and-Nocturia-with-Erectile-Dysfunction-Low-Testosterone-and-Increased-Risk-of-Death Research Connects Poor Sleep Quality and Nocturia with Erectile Dysfunction, Low Testosterone and Increased Risk of Death
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760048/ Subjective sleep quality, unstimulated sexual arousal, and sexual frequency
4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsm.12858 T0.he Impact of Sleep on Female Sexual Response and Behavior
5. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-01/uoc — psc011713.phpPoor sleep can leave romantic partners feeling unappreciated
6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550613488952 The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict Amie M. Gordon, Serena Chen
7. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/387c/4ba8b0a5bd5533a52d63a2324f02d0183797.pdf The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Decision Making: A Review Yvonne Harrison and James A. Home