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Sleepless Nights Linked To Marital Conflicts

June 15, 2011

To achieve a happy marriage, husbands need to make sure their wives get enough sleep at night, suggests a study.

Researchers found that when wives have trouble falling asleep, their marriage relationships falters. Surprisingly, husbands who got less sleep did not suffer the same consequences.

The study followed 35 healthy married couples who were mostly in their thirties, and who had no history of physical or mental health problems.

Each couple was equipped with actigraphs, bracelets that measured the time it took each partner to fall asleep after going to bed and the total time each slept. The experiment lasted for about 10 days, at the same time each couple kept a diary that recorded how many “positive marital interactions” they enjoyed the following day, when they felt valued or supported by their spouse, and how many negative ones where they were criticized or ignored.

The results of the study suggest that wives’ sleep problems affected both the husbands and wives interactions the next day.

“Wives who took longer to fall asleep the night before reported poorer interactions with their husbands the next day,” says lead author of the study Wendy Troxel, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition, husbands also reported poorer interaction with their wives.

“When you’re irritated, the person you’re most likely to take it out on is your spouse,” Troxel says.

On the contrary, “husbands’ sleep did not affect his own or his spouse’s report of next day’s marital interactions.” Instead, it boosted their marital bliss, which may reflect what went on after the lights went out.

“The actigraphs only measure the time it takes for someone to fall asleep after they went to bed,” Troxel says. She adds that that the couples were instructed to start the timer when they turned out the lights.

“When the husband is sleeping less, it may be because he’s engaged in other pleasurable interactions,” she says.

The ongoing study plans to recruit 12 more couples before a final analysis is made by Troxel, who hopes to uncover how sleep influences relationships and health.

“There’s a great deal of research focused on the impact of social relationships on health, and a great deal focused on marital quality and cardiovascular health,” she says. “It appears that being married is good, but it has to be a high-quality marriage.”

The study suggests that sleep could be an important determinant of marriage quality.

“Sleep is a critical health behavior that happens to be one that couples engage in together,” says Troxel.

“Understanding the dynamic link between relationships and sleep might help us to understand how relationships get under the skin to influence health and wellbeing.

Preliminary results from the study were presented at Sleep 2011, the 25th anniversary meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis on Monday.

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