Bryson and Erica Simonson knew they had a problem the day they fought about bread. “We were making the grocery list,” Erica says, “and he said something about whole wheat bread I prefer…Before you know it, we were actually in a fight about what bread to buy.” They decided to see a counselor, afraid of what the future would hold for their marriage. “Right away, she asked us about our sleep,” Bryson remembers. “That’s when it clicked. Being over-tired was hurting our relationship.”
Like Bryson and Erica, many couples find their relationships suffering from a lack of sleep. Without adequate, consistent sleep, individuals report many symptoms that can negatively affect relationships, such as low energy, anxiety, loss of concentration, and loss of libido.
The Couple that Sleeps Together, Stays Together
Sometimes, couples who experience sleep struggles decide not to sleep together in an attempt not to disturb their partner. However, sleeping separately, has been shown to have a negative long-term impact on intimacy. As Dr. Barton Goldsmith, psychologist and columnist for Psychology Today, states, “The decision to sleep separately can make it more difficult to resolve issues.”
Additional studies support Goldsmith’s theory. Sleeping together has been proven to raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with building attachment. Oxytocin also supports relaxation, a feeling of security, and several health benefits, including lowered blood pressure. In contrast, sleeping alone causes increased levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. By choosing to sleep separately, couples unwittingly set the stage for less attachment and more crankiness, which can cause further disconnection.
Separate sleepers are also reducing their opportunities for sexual bonding and intimacy. Sex is an essential part of romantic partnership. A study by Dr. Allison Siebern, Director of the Stanford Program for Insomnia and Integrative Sleep Health, found that individuals with sleep deprivation also report problems in their sex life. “Lack of sleep can lead to low energy, fatigue, and sleepiness,” says Siebern. “This often decreases interest in sex and libido.”
Insomnia and Your Relationship
No one wants to lie awake at night, but the effects of insomnia can really damage relationships. People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep report difficulty managing life’s daily stressors. Even minor daily challenges can bring down their mood. Without healthy sleep patterns, these individuals have trouble relating to others, and may even have a lowered quality of life, according to the Sleep Disorders Institute.
This is what happened to Erica and Bryson. “For months, I had been struggling with insomnia…pressures at work, too much caffeine… and I found myself snapping at Erica and the kids,” Bryson remembered. "It was really hard for me to improve my mood.”
Dr. Philip Gehrman, chair of the Behavior Sleep Medicine Task Force at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, takes the research a step further. He discovered that insomnia not only increased a feeling of stress – it also dampened positive experiences. “Sleep deprivation actually decreases our experience of positive emotions,” he says. “It reduces their intensity.”
Snuggle Up Together
Over time, the negative effects of sleep deprivation and sleeping separately can create an environment where couples are arguing more and connecting less. The solution is simple: spend more time in bed, helping one another get a good night’s rest. It worked for Bryson and Erica: “After a few months of working on improving our sleep, we hardly ever fight,” Erica says. “It’s made a huge difference…we’re much happier now.”