In times of trouble or distress, sleep is usually one of the first things to go. Yet skimping on sleep can make matters much, much worse. Studies have shown that getting enough sleep is vital for our immune systems, decision-making skills, blood pressure, outlook, and our safety behind the wheel. And now experts say getting more sleep than usual may improve the way we feel about our relationships. They published their findings in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Researchers at Florida State University recruited 68 young newlywed couples and asked them to keep a sleep diary. Each morning, the participants recorded how well they had slept, and for how long. They also answered two sets of questions about their feelings about their marriage, rating every item from 1 (not satisfied at all) to 7 (extremely satisfied). The first set of questions concerned overall relationship satisfaction, while the other looked into satisfaction with more specific elements like conflict resolution, housework, and the amount of time spent together.

Combining the data from diaries and questionnaires revealed some interesting trends. First, the researchers found that getting more sleep than usual improved people’s views of their relationships the next morning. This effect was especially pronounced in male participants, who reported higher overall satisfaction even when noting issues in specific areas. Sleep didn’t make the participants’ problems go away; it just helped them see a more positive big picture.

Finally, they found that it wasn’t the quantity of sleep that mattered (couples who slept more than other couples were not more satisfied); it was whether or not the participants slept more than they usually did. This makes sense; after all, we all sleep differently. If you’ve been getting by on five hours of sleep a night and suddenly you get six, you’ll likely be in better shape than a person used to nine hours who only gets eight, even though technically the latter person slept longer.

The subject is worth exploring further, especially since this study was so limited in scope. The 136 participants were all heterosexual and had been married for an average of six months. They were also almost all white and in their mid-twenties. Still, says psychology graduate student and co-author Heather Maranges, there is a “universality” in the study’s findings: “We know all people need sleep,” she said in a press statement. 

“Regardless of the stage at which a couple is in their relationship or the cultural context in which they're embedded, each member of the couple can be adversely affected by not getting enough sleep."

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