Do you find yourself sneaking naps during your lunch break? Perhaps you find yourself regularly depending on coffee or some other source of caffeine to make it through your day? Whether you are sleep-deprived from having a young family, poor sleeping habits causing you sleep debt, or you are just sleeping in on the weekends to make up for the lack of sleep earlier in the week, your sleep is impacting your marriage possibly in ways you might not even be realizing. In this article, we’ll talk about what bad sleep looks like, what impact it can have on your relationship, and steps that you can take to improve your sleep.

How many hours should you be sleeping? 

It depends! Our sleep needs are not fixed and vary throughout our lives. The minimum amount of sleep required by an individual in a day, without accounting for any stressors or sleep debt, is known as the sleep baseline. A Harvard study shared that most healthy adults need 7 hours of sleep within 24 hours. 

However, you may need more or less sleep depending on the stress level you experience during the day and any sleep debt you’ve accumulated from previous nights. Taking naps during the day can also reduce the daily amount of sleep you need overall. While the recommendation of sleep is at least 7 hours for adults, remember that multiple factors affect each person’s needs. 

Do you have sleep deprivation or sleep debt? 

At first glance, the difference between sleep deprivation and sleep debt can seem almost non-existent; bad sleep is bad sleep. However, knowing the difference between the two is essential to fixing sleep habits and, ultimately, getting good sleep.

What is sleep deprivation? 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, sleep deprivation is defined as either not getting enough sleep or not getting good quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can have several adverse effects on your body, ranging from mental to physical health, all depending on how long the sleep deprivation has been ongoing. One can be sleep deprived for many reasons, including parenting a newborn, changing your work shift hours, or experiencing illness. 

What is sleep quality?

Before discussing sleep debt and its impacts, we must first talk about sleep quality and understand what good sleep is. The National Sleep Foundation defines a good sleep quality as someone falling asleep quickly and remains asleep. If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep or 20 minutes to go back to sleep after waking, you likely have poor sleep quality.

What is sleep debt? 

Sleep debt is the difference between the quality sleep you had and the amount of sleep you need. It is about more than just getting enough sleep, but also the overall quality of your sleep. Like sleep deprivation, continued sleep debt can have impacts on your health, some of which can be long lasting or even permanent if not treated properly.

How your relationship is impacted by sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation does not occur in a vacuum and can increase or decrease over time. As life stages or transitions occur, our sleep patterns are more likely to change. Sleep deprivation has repercussions on your well-being and your relationship with others. The MedCline shared that sleep deprivation can impact relationships in many ways. We will explore some of those areas in greater detail below.

Heightened emotional reactions

Research indicates that lower levels of sleep affect amygdala functioning, which can impact your reactivity to stress and depressive symptoms. For some, there may be increased emotional reactivity, and for others, emotional numbness.

Reduced empathy

Lower levels of sleep impact brain functioning and how we interpret and share feelings with others. When we don’t get enough sleep, it affects our ability to understand and empathize with others. It also limits our ability to express our own emotions effectively.

Negative impacts on physical health

Sleep deprivation has clear negative impacts on one’s physical health. Some of the possible physical health concerns include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

Spike in judgemental comments

Lack of sleep can cause cognitive issues such as hypervigilance and poor decision-making. It also affects our ability to communicate in a non-judgmental way, leading to more aggressive or intense responses. As a result, we may experience increased feelings of rejection and stereotyping towards our partner.

Increased loneliness

Along with judgemental comments, sleep deprivation can cause cognitive impairments that make us more susceptible to being in fight or flight mode and more likely to feel rejected. Consistent critical comments or contemptuous comments can lead to negative sentiment override. The more activating the conversations with our partner are, the more likely we are to go into fight or flight mode or become emotionally flooded. This makes you less likely to open up to your partner and be vulnerable, as it does not feel safe to do so.

Rising stress levels

The amygdala, a part of our brain responsible for regulating emotions, is negatively impacted by inadequate sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it harder for people to cope with stress or regulate their emotions when in distress. Additionally, lack of sleep can increase stress levels, as we may force ourselves to complete tasks or engage in conversations when we are not mentally prepared.

If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your relationship, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation. Check in with your partner to let them know what you’re noticing in yourself and how it’s affecting your relationship. While sleep deprivation is an obstacle, there are ways to cope. 

4 ways to have better sleep 

Based on the areas outlined above, you hopefully have been able to self-assess whether you struggle with sleep deprivation. Thankfully, there are proven ways to cope and increase sleep for a better self and relationship.

1. Take stock of your sleep baseline, debts, stressors, and naps.

It can be helpful to take inventory of your current sleep baseline

  • How much are you currently sleeping daily? 
  • Are you measuring your sleep using an app on your phone, a smartwatch, or keeping a sleep diary
  • Are you taking strides to mitigate the sleep debt with naps during the day, or do you need to discuss having the support of your partner? 
  • What are possible ways to cope with your stressors individually and with your partner? 
  • Are there certain tasks or expectations you may need to put on hold in this phase of life?

It is critical to remember that the more stress you have in your life, the more sleep you need.

If you cannot reach the average sleep baseline or your ideal sleep baseline, take small steps to increase your sleep. Research indicates that 60 to 90 minutes of additional sleep daily makes Americans happier, healthier, and safer.

2. Be on the same sleep schedule as your partner.

When one partner stays up late, gets out of bed frequently, or when there are young children in the household, it can lead to interrupted sleep and cause problems for couples. To increase the likelihood of uninterrupted sleep, try to go to bed and wake up around the same time. A consistent sleep routine can improve the amount and quality of sleep you get each day.

Some partners work different shifts or must be on different sleep schedules to juggle sleep with young children. Those circumstances may not make having the same sleep schedule as your partner a viable option. In that case, scheduling time for you and your partner to connect when you are both rested may be helpful.

3. Increase your exercise (and your vitamin D).

Increasing exercise is a natural way to work out built-up stress from the day. Doing physical activity with your partner can be cathartic if time allows. Depending on where you exercise, you may also increase your exposure to sunlight and vitamin D intake. Since vitamin D plays a role in sleep regulation, increasing the amount of vitamin D may help you and your partner sleep longer and not wake up in the middle of the night.

4. Set your sleep environment. 

To get quality sleep, follow good sleep hygiene and consider different factors affecting your sleep. Identify any obstacles, such as sensitivity to light or noise, and take steps to minimize their impact. For example, you can reduce blue light exposure at night, use dark mode on your phone, use a sound machine, wear an eye mask, or play calming music.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t have to take over your relationship. 

If your sleep deprivation has moved beyond a season, affects your day-to-day, and you do not think you can cope on your own or share with your partner, consider reaching out to us. Our therapists can help you and your partner process your current life stage and instill coping strategies.   

Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.

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