Do you lie awake in bed more than a few nights per week? Are you tired of not getting enough sleep? Are you irritable with your spouse or marital partner? Feel like you are making mountains out of molehills? The National Institutes of Health reports insomnia and sleep disorders can cause physical problems such as blood pressure problem, heart problems, diabetes, and obesity. Yet, recent research shows how insomnia also negatively effects emotional well being and relationships.
Poor sleep is not a new thing in American culture. Walk into any coffee shop and ask how each person slept, and I bet many of them would say they were experiencing poor sleep quality. While the causes of their sleep difficulty may vary, probably most of them would say they did not feel well rested in the morning. Others may state they are more irritable, testy and experiencing some brain fog from continued poor sleep.
Recently someone passed along an article, written by Andrea Peterson, describing the emotional effects of sleep deprivation. According to Ms. Peterson’s report, those with poor sleep “…have difficulty reading the facial expressions of other people…[are] less able to discern, for example, whether a spouse is annoyed or just serene.” She also noted, “They are less emotionally expressive when they haven’t gotten enough sleep.”
Insomnia hurts communication in relationships
It seems there are a few ways that sleep disturbances can cause conflict in relationships. First, poor quality of sleep results in enhanced communication problems. As a counselor, I have seen first hand how easily communication can break down within any relationship. Healthy communication requires the ability to listen to one anothers’ concerns, identify the conflict and work jointly to resolve the problem. Each part of this becomes more laborious if you are experiencing sleep problems. Misreading facial expressions is very simple, yet the impactful manner in which sleep can cause communication problems. How easy it is to misinterpret a person’s smirk as mockery when the person actually meant it as a smile to ease the tension!
Sleep disorders cause distress to relationships with the resulting irritability that can accompany non-restorative sleep. Our ability to be proactive to resolve conflict is diminished because frustration is ever present. Decreased patience paired with increased reaction to minor infractions results in the perfect storm for any relationship. Restorative sleep promotes feelings of calm, respite and the ability to manage life stressors more successfully. Our discernment of making better choices and knowing how to respond to challenges is improved. Restorative sleep allows us to focus on the major issues and let the minor ones go by the wayside.
Insomnia can interfere with sexual intimacy
Another way chronic insomnia wreak havoc on a relationship is a less satisfying sex life. Healthy sex life is an essential element in a relationship. Decreased sleep can result in emotional stress thereby increasing sexual dysfunction. Poor sleep also affects hormones and sexual interest for each partner. Perhaps more obviously, one does not have any sexual desire or interest if he/she is always feeling tired during the day. The desire for sleep may overshadow a sexual desire for the person who has not been able to sleep for long periods of time.
My intention is not to oversimplify relationship struggles, it is to note the exacerbation sleep deprivation brings about to an already conflicted situation within relationships. Insomnia may not directly cause relationship problems, but it certainly can make them worse. If you are struggling with insomnia or relationship issues, seek out the help of a specialized trained healthcare professional.