We all love date nights. They’re a chance to get out of the house, no kids in tow, and re-connect with our partners. If a little wine is involved, and sweatpants are not, all the better.
But it’s what happens after date night that’s even more important to maintaining a close, healthy connection with your mate.
I’m talking about sleep.
The science is pretty clear. Sleep is essential for emotional balance and well-being. When we’re rested, we have greater emotional equilibrium. We’re calmer, less stressed, able to be more thoughtful about what we say and how we act. Short on sleep, it’s a different story. Lack of sleep aggravates stress, increases irritability, and drains us of the energy that even the best and closest relationships need.
Researching the impact of sleep on relationships, a few things jumped out at me:
Sleep problems escalate conflicts. You’ve probably experienced this firsthand. I certainly have. Still, it’s noteworthy to see scientists pinpoint a biological relationship between poor sleep and conflict between partners. Scientists investigating how sleep affects conflict in romantic relationships tested couples in two different settings: in a sleep lab and under real-life conditions. From home, couples reported fighting more after nights they slept poorly—and researchers came to the same conclusion after observing couples in the lab. The scientists were able to rule out other influences that might also contribute to couples fighting, including stress and lack of satisfaction in the relationship.
Most interesting? It only took one person sleeping poorly to trigger more conflict in a relationship.
Lack of sleep interferes with empathy. This is a big deal for relationships. Psychologists tell us empathy—our ability to see one another’s perspective, to imagine and even feel another person’s emotional experience—is key to relationship success. Empathy is the foundational skill for compassion. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ability to practice empathy plummets. We’re less adept at understanding, and sharing in, our partner’s feelings.
Poor sleep makes us more emotionally reactive. That rotten experience, when you snap at your mate for asking a benign question about your day, or completely lose your temper over a small frustration? Sleep plays a hand in those moments. Scientists don’t fully understand all the ways sleep affects our emotional lives. But there’s plenty of evidence sleep helps us process our emotions. And getting enough high-quality sleep boosts our ability to manage our emotions effectively. The flipside? When we’re tired and lacking sleep, we’re less able to exert control over our emotional responses.
Sleeping well helps us appreciate our partners. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, did some interesting investigations into how sleep affects couples’ sense of gratitude and appreciation for each other. In a series of studies, the scientists discovered our ability to feel gratitude is impaired by poor sleep. Tired and short on rest, they found, people felt less grateful for the good in their lives, and adopted a more selfish outlook. This gratitude dip specifically affected the appreciation couples had for one another. And one partner’s poor sleep resulted in both partners feeling less appreciative for the other.
My husband and I will be sticking to our weekly date nights. To keep our relationship a happy one, we’ll also be paying more attention to get plenty of quiet, restful sleep — on date night, and every other night.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds