Arguing can be a healthy part of any relationship, if it’s done well and for the right reasons. But let’s be real: sometimes, you pick a fight with your beau because you’re stressed, hungry, or tired.
If that sounds like you, you aren’t imagining things. One researcher, inspired by her own relationship, studied the link between sleep and conflict in intimate relationships. She wanted to answer the following questions.
After sleeping poorly…
1. Are people more likely to report experiencing conflict with their romantic partner(s)?
2. Is their conflict more severe?
3. Are they less able to resolve conflict?
Here’s what she found. Keep in mind, all the results are correlations—they tell us that these factors are connected, not that one necessarily causes another.
Bad sleep leads to more arguing
In the first study, participants completed a daily survey for two weeks. In the morning, they recorded how well and long they’d slept. At night, they reported whether, and how much, they fought with their partner. To summarize:
[…] the worse people slept the night before, the more they reported fighting with their partner that day.
The researchers ruled out some alternative reasons for the increased fighting, including being more stressed, anxious, or depressed, and being disturbed by their partner in the night. While there was truth to all these explanations, none were to blame for the greater conflict the day after.
Poor sleep leads to more severe conflict
In the second study, couples were recorded while talking about a problem in their relationship. They were also surveyed on how well and long they slept the night before. What did researchers find?
People who reported sleeping poorly the previous night experienced fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions and were less able to take their partner’s perspective during the conversation.
Additionally, it didn’t matter if it was you or your partner who slept poorly! Both partners were affected if just one of you had a shitty night’s sleep.
Poor sleep means you’re less able to resolve conflict
After the conversation, each partner told researchers how well they’d resolved whatever problem they’d discussed. The fight was less likely to be resolved if either partner had slept poorly the night before. And if both partners were well rested? Participants were more likely to report resolving the argument.
So once again, we found that when it comes to conflict resolution, it takes two–just one poorly-rested partner is enough to derail conflict resolution.
It takes two…to solve a conflict
If you or your beau isn’t in the right state of mind—whether that’s from poor sleep, work stress, a bad body image day, etc.—hold off on any Big Scary Talks. There might not ever be a perfect moment, but you can find one where you’re both able to be fully present.
Own your shit
On the other hand, notice how your mood changes after a poor night’s sleep. Do you pick fights more? React at the slightest provocation? Nag constantly? (Yes I just listed my go-to’s!).
Once you know and name your patterns, you can work to address rather than respond to them. Let your beau know that you didn’t sleep well and you’re therefore more likely to [insert cranky habit here]. It doesn’t excuse you from picking a fight, but it allows both of you to approach the behavior with more love and empathy.
Have good sleep hygiene
My friends always made fun of my bedtime routine because it started hours before bed. I eat dessert at lunch instead of dinner. Once the sun sets, I turn down the lights in my home, switching from bright blue LEDs to warm yellow lamps. I make tea and spray essential oils on the bed. I avoid my favorite TV shows that get me all worked up!
These habits help me sleep longer and more soundly. I fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times during the night. I feel less tired the next day. Any one of these factors being off can contribute to poor sleep.
Create some healthy sleep habits with your beau. Try meditating or reading together, rubbing each other down with lotion, or eye gazing. You’ll sleep better, feel more connected, and be less likely to bicker the next day.
Go to bed angry
Fuck the old adage and get some rest! You just might find that in the morning, your anger and problems drifted away with your dreams.
Sources: Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2013). The role of sleep in interpersonal conflict: Do sleepless nights mean worse fights? Social Psychological and Personality Science, Online First DOI: 10.1177/1948550613488952