By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
You are up late – either because you have insomnia, or you chose to do something enjoyable late into the night (perhaps watching TV or partying with friends). Maybe it’s one night; maybe it’s three; or longer. But if you don’t make up those hours of sleep, at some point in the following days, it will affect your life in many ways – not the least of which is that your relationship will suffer.
This is unlikely an issue in the initial phases of love when you feel exhilarated. But long-term relationships are more challenging and take more perseverance. Everyday stresses can cause tension. Personal struggles, normal variations in mood and energy, and work difficulties can all take their toll. So, unless each partner is vigilant about taking care of themselves and about caring for their relationship, their connection can become so strained that it breaks.
And of all the stresses that create this relationship strain, lack of sleep is frequently a big factor. The reason for this is that people often underestimate the power of sleep deprivation. They don’t see how it increases all the other problems – it makes work harder and everyday frustrations more aggravating. When problems mount, you can’t think straight and your frustration tolerance is low. There is almost no way to avoid your relationship suffering from this. You’re more likely to snap at little things and are less likely to act in loving ways. If you stay in a pattern of sleep deprivation, your emotional withdrawal and general crankiness will become status quo – and this will lead to more strain and distance in your relationship.
So, for all of the above reasons, it is essential to get sufficient sleep. A few things that sleep experts suggest:
- Make sleep a priority. By taking your need for sleep seriously, you are more likely to allot sufficient time for it.
- Establish a regular bedtime.
- Establish a regular wake-up time. Even when you go to sleep late, get up at the same time.
- Limit napping.
- Limit caffeine.
- Limit smoking.
- Exercise during the day, but not in the two to three hours before you go to bed.
- Limit drinking alcohol regularly at night. Alcohol can keep you from sleeping as deeply as usual.
- Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. This is standard advice for those who struggle with insomnia. Some people find it relaxing to read or watch TV in bed, but be aware that this can also keep you awake.
- Actively manage your stress. This can be extremely helpful – even essential – in helping you to get enough “good” sleep. If your life has you tied up in knots during the day, those same knots may prevent you from being able to relax into sleep. So, do everything you can to manage your stress, such as setting realistic expectations, prioritizing your to-dos, and making time to enjoy life.
If you have chronic insomnia, you might want to see a professional, who can assess the sources of your difficulty and help you to address it. For instance, she might identify that your insomnia is a side-effect of your medicine, a stress-related problem, or the result of poor sleep habits that she can help you rectify.
While you can survive with less than optimal sleep, there are serious affects of doing so on a chronic basis. So, do yourself and your loved ones (not to mention everyone else you come in contact with) a favor – do everything you can to get some sleep!
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.