Can't seem to stop fighting with your spouse? Exhausted by the low-level bickering and constant sniping? Are you turning into The Needlers—"The Couple That Should Be Divorced?" A new study from UC Berkeley psychologists explains why you can't seem to avoid the arguing.
It's because of sleep problems.
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It sounds obvious, but a lack of sleep may be the reason you fight so much. The study found that couples are unable to avoid or manage conflict if they haven't gotten enough sleep.
Sleep problems can be caused by everything from ADHD, Depression and Stress to Nicotine, Caffeine and Alcohol. It can also be caused by lifestyle factors: Do you have a new baby? Are you taking medication? Do you have trouble getting to bed at a reasonable hour? Is snoring a problem for you?
"For the first time, to our knowledge, we can see the process of how the nature, degree, and resolution of conflict are negatively impacted by poor sleep," said Serena Chen, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.
Perfectly reasonable people can become irrational, argumentative and testy after a bad night's sleep, and "couples who fight more are less happy and less healthy," said Amie Gordon, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study published online in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Before you had the baby, for example, you might have been able to let that sarcastic comment about your mother go, or refrain from making that little dig about his spending habits, but this study proves that a sleepless night makes healthy communication much more difficult.
For this study, researchers collected data on more than 100 couples who had been together for about two years. They ruled out other stressors, and focused solely on the link between the couples' sleep quality and relationship conflicts. The participants who slept poorly were observed to have weaker conflict-resolution skills and ability to accurately gauge their partners' emotions.
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"Even among relatively good sleepers, a poor night of sleep was associated with more conflict with their romantic partner the next day," Chen said.
If you know you have a sleep problem, or know your partner does, it might be time to focus on sleep solutions. Here's a list of tips from the National Sleep Foundation: