Lack Of Sleep Can Wreak Havoc On The Best Of Relationships
And negatively impact your quality of life.
Not Sleeping Together
Recently I read an article on Web MD by By Camille Peri titled “When Sleep Problems Cause Sex Problems.” My thought was, it doesn’t just affect your sex life but your entire relationship.
First, couples tend to stop sleeping together. “People who have trouble sleeping often develop elaborate routines over time,” says Phil Gehrman, Ph.D., CBSM, assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“They become very sensitive to anything they think might threaten their sleep. And one of the things that can disturb sleep is a bed partner.” This really doesn’t help a relationship, but rather it leads to another problem, sex.
Both Gehrman and Allison T. Siebern, Ph.D., a fellow in the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center, say sleep-deprived men and women report problems with sex.
“Lack of sleep can lead to low energy, fatigue, and sleepiness,” says Siebern. “This may affect libido and/or decrease interest in sex.”
Robert Thayer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California State University in Long Beach and a mood researcher, believes that the combination of low energy and increased tension caused by lack of sleep — a situation he calls “tense tiredness” — can also lead to sexual dysfunction.
In men, lack of sleep, particularly men with sleep apnea, an inability to breathe properly during sleep, commonly report low libidos and sexual activity. This may be because sleep apnea may be associated with lower testosterone levels in some men.
A 2002 study of men at the Technion Sleep Laboratory in Israel found that nearly half of those who suffered from severe sleep apnea also secreted abnormally low levels of testosterone during the night.
According to the Sleep Disorders Institute, people with insomnia — an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep long enough to be rested — say they have a difficult time dealing with even minor stress. They also have more problems relating to other people in social and work settings than those without insomnia. Some research shows that people with insomnia generally have a lower quality of life than people who do not have sleep difficulties.
People with insomnia are more likely to skip social activities. “People will say they avoid evening social engagements because they are concerned that it will disrupt their sleep schedule,” Siebern says. “They begin to accommodate their sleep loss by rearranging or avoiding activities.”
But Gehrman believes this social withdrawal may partly be because people who are sleep deprived get less enjoyment out of life in general. “Sleep deprivation actually decreases our experience of positive emotions,” he says. “It reduces their intensity.”
Lack of sleep can also make you more irritable, frustrated, and quicker to argue with your spouse, children, friends, or coworkers. “Parents who don’t get enough sleep commonly worry that they are not spending enough time with their children or engaging with them enough because of fatigue,” Siebern adds.
“As people are increasingly sleep-starved, they suffer from lack of energy late in the afternoon or evening,” Thayer says. “They become more vulnerable to tension, anxiety, and stress at those times.” Which is the time the family is together. Kids are home from school, and your spouse is home from work.
Effects of Sleep Loss
- Loss of libido
- Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
- Make depression worse over time
- Impairs attention, alertness, concentration, memory, reasoning, problem solving, and response time
None of this will help at work or even things like driving a car. “People are often concerned about their lowered productivity and about their boss or co-workers taking notice of it,” Siebern says. “And the effects of loss of sleep on mood — increased irritability, frustration, and so on — can impact work relationships.”
The Snowball Effect
Over time, the sleep-loss issues that come between spouses or partners can snowball into some pretty formidable relationship problems. Gehrman says that’s why he often encourages patients who come in for treatment at the Penn Sleep Centers to bring their spouse or partner.
“When they do, they can really see how insomnia has become a dividing factor in their relationship,” Gehrman says. “First, because of ongoing irritability and mood issues. Second, because their partner, who often sleeps like a rock, just doesn’t understand why sleep is having such a significant impact on that person’s life. And when it gets to the point where the person who is sleeping poorly wants to turn down social activities at night, it just adds fuel to the fire.”
Make It Right
So as we move towards Valentines Day let’s remember how important sleep is to a relationship. Also, remember the importance couples sleeping together. If your current mattress makes it hard to sleep together, look at a new mattress. Maybe a larger size, one with better motion control, or maybe an adjustable base with an anti snore feature.
There is usually a way to make things work. You just have to look for it. You can also make sure you are eliminating as many sleep inhibitors as possible. Also, keep in mind the importance of the right mattress for sex.
If you are one of the millions who have a sleep disorder make sure you are doing all you can to treat it. Your relationship could depend on it.