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A Family Affair: Poor sleep can hurt relationships
Apr. 23, 2022 6:00 am
My wife just had our second child — a girl born just about a month ago. I can’t tell you how smitten I am by our daughter. She has big eyes and a full head of hair. Being a dad brings me so much joy.
But it doesn’t come with a lot of sleep. My wife and I are lucky if we get three hours of uninterrupted sleep these days. We have so much love for our daughter and wouldn’t trade her for anything, but I’m anxiously awaiting the night where I can sleep for eight hours without waking up.
It’s common knowledge that lack of sleep is bad for health. When we don’t sleep enough, or we don’t sleep well, we are at greater risk for disease. Lack of sleep is associated with cardiovascular risks, obesity and mental health issues like depression.
But what might be less common knowledge is that lack of sleep effects your relationships, and how your relationships effect your sleep. Sure, we all know that when kids miss their nap or don’t sleep well, they are going to be grumpy. But many studies are now showing that when we don’t sleep well, it’s hard to communicate with the ones we love. And that if we don’t have good relationships, it may affect our sleep.
Poor sleep reduces our ability to resolve conflicts. When partners sleep less, they are more likely to act hostile toward each other. And this can turn into a vicious cycle. The quality of our relationship can be linked to the frequency of our sleep disruptions. If we don’t get along well with our family members, we might wake up more frequently. In other words, poor sleep may result in us being more hostile, which in turn may lead us to sleep even less, making us even more hostile.
That doesn’t mean that lacking sleep is going to doom our relationships. But knowing the research can give us hope when you aren’t getting much sleep. My wife and I have been trying to give each other extra grace when one of us is short or gets easily frustrated. We know that right now may not be the time to have to have big discussions or make important decisions — we are just too tired to do that. Knowing that helps us connect and laugh and try to enjoy this unique time in our family. It helps us to step up, so the other can take a much-needed nap.
It also allows us to look forward to the day when we can sleep at least somewhat better than we are now. It makes it OK to go to bed a bit angry and to wake up still tired. It has helped us treasure the quiet moments when our kids our sleeping, where we can try to start a new Netflix series, but fall asleep 10 minutes in.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org