The Real Truth about Sleep Deprivation and Relationships
What is it about you having a lousy night’s sleep that makes everyone else so awful? It seems that way, doesn’t it? You have a night of broken, interrupted, just plain lousy sleep, and the next day people are extra annoying!
Seriously, is the universe just messing with you? Maybe. I’m not saying that’s not a possibility. But a more likely explanation is that your lack of sleep is making it impossible for you to react rationally to frustrating situations.
Researchers from the University of Arizona released a study¹ back in 2006 which showed that people who were deprived of sleep over a 55 hour period had:
• An increased tendency to blame others for problems
• Reduced willingness to alleviate a conflict situation by accepting blame
• Increased aggression
• Lower willingness to behave in ways that facilitate effective social interaction
What does this have to do with you? If you and your partner are the proud parents of a new baby, your lives are undoubtedly blessed. But let’s not kid each other, a new baby is a mammoth responsibility. And since parents lose an average of 350 hours of sleep the first year of their baby's life, you're extremely sleep deprived.
Here's what happens when your don't get the sleep you need:
It's harder to make decisions.
New babies require their parents to make, on average, one zillion decisions a day. (I’m estimating there, but it’s for sure in the ballpark. Let’s say a zillion-ish.)
And for every decision that has to be made, you and your partner need to come to some sort of an agreement that it’s the right way to go.
What time should we put him to bed?
What do we do when he starts crying?
Are we going to breastfeed? Are we able to?
Those are all questions that need to be agreed upon and then reevaluated if things aren’t going smoothly. And those are just three of an infinite number of choices you’ll make in the first few weeks alone. And every one of them presents an opportunity for disagreement.
Now, you and your partner might have a great method of solving your disputes. And you may have already agreed on a lot of these questions before you even got pregnant. But as any parent knows, all of those decisions are up for renewal the second things start going off the rails.
So here you are, faced with all of these decisions, all of which need to be approved by you and your partner. You’re frustrated because things aren’t going smoothly to begin with. And to top it all off, your ability to recognize and respond to each other in a rational, civilized manner has been seriously compromised because you're sleep deprived.
Two people forced to debate the most important decisions they’re likely to make in their lives, and they’re psychologically primed to blame one another, get angry, and less likely to play fair or accept responsibility.
You're less grateful
Couples who don’t get enough sleep are less likely to show gratitude towards each other, according to Amie Gordon, a doctorate candidate in social-personality psychology at UC Berkeley² . And they're significantly more likely to feel unappreciated. Since feeling gratitude toward your spouse is key to a loving relationship, it can be extremely damaging to feel like you aren't appreciated for a long period of time.
Your libido decreases
And as though that’s not enough, consider the fact that lack of sleep decreases libido, which means you won’t be having sex as often, if at all. Many of the parents I’ve worked with have told me they’ve stopped having sex altogether, since one of them is sleeping on the couch, or sleeping next to baby. And in those rare opportunities where they get the opportunity to fool around, they both say they’re too tired and just not in the mood.
Loads of couples get through this period in their lives with their partnership intact. So I’m not trying to suggest that sleep deprivation is going to be the end of your relationship. A baby who isn’t sleeping isn’t necessarily going to result in divorce. But I can say without reservation that it’s certainly not going to help.
Babies are amazing, right? I mean c’mon. What can possibly compare with those first few months when you and your partner stand over the crib together and look down on that precious new life that the two of you created together? It’s the most romantic experience I can envision, and it’s a period in your life that deserves to be cherished.
It's not so easy to appreciate this special time if you and your partner are constantly fighting with each other because neither of you are getting sleep.
There are so many reasons to make your little one’s sleep a priority when it comes to their well-being. But I’d ask you to take a selfish little detour for a moment and consider what it can mean for you, your partner, and your relationship. After all, it's best for kids to see their parents happy, united, and in love.
So before you commit to couples therapy, before you move to separate bedrooms, before you even get into one more heated argument over which route to take to daycare, try taking a week to commit to getting your little one sleeping through the night and see how you feel once you’re all getting the rest you need.
The results, I promise you, are nothing short of amazing.
¹Greene, E. T., Lipizzi, E. L., Conrad, A. K., Kamimori, G. H., & Killgore, W. (2006). Sleep deprivation adversely affects interpersonal responses to frustration. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(8), 1433-1443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.06.002
²A. M., & Chen, S. (2014). The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(2), 168–175. https://doi. org/10.1177/1948550613488952