Recently, some clients have shared that one of the hardest things they face when dealing with their babies’ sleep struggles is the way that the lack of sleep (for everyone) is damaging their relationships with their partners. Many of these clients say the same thing: their constant exhaustion puts enormous strain on their relationships. This makes sense, after all; when you’re exhausted and sleep-deprived, you barely have enough energy to meet your baby’s needs, let alone your partner’s. And, if you’re a single parent, you may be feeling the effects on relationships with friends, parents, or other loved ones.
Today, more Americans than ever are sleep-deprived. But although sleep deprivation is far more widespread today than it was 30 years ago, it isn’t any less damaging to a person’s health (or to a person’s relationships!) Chronic sleep deprivation creates a whole host of problems in the human body; it can also cause problems in a relationship. In fact, a recent study published by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine provides strong evidence that sleep deprivation is harmful to marriages.
Does this sound familiar? Are the sleepless nights you spend caring for your baby starting to wear you down? And is your constant tiredness taking a toll on your relationship? If you’re answering yes, take heart. Chronic sleep deprivation can be lethal to a relationship (and this article will explain why), but you don’t have to sacrifice your relationship on the altar of exhaustion. You can get your baby sleeping well, reclaim your nights, and begin repairing your relationship.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Harm A Relationship?
First, though, it’s important to examine why and how sleep deprivation erodes the foundation of a good relationship. Sleep deprivation impacts physical health, mood, sexual intimacy, and emotional intelligence; when these elements are affected, your relationship may be affected, too.
Sleep Deprivation Impacts Physical Health
A persistent, chronic lack of sleep can harm your overall physical health in several ways:
- Weight: Sleep deprivation has long been linked to weight gain, and new research links sleep deprivation to higher rates of obesity. Both can negatively impact body image and self-confidence, which can take a toll on a relationship.
- Immunity: People who are sleep deprived actually get sick more often than people who aren’t. A 2009 study revealed that people getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night on a regular basis were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who got 8 or more hours. Chronic illness will certainly impact a relationship — if you’re constantly battling a cold, you probably aren’t all that pleasant to be around!
Sleep Deprivation Impacts Mood
We don’t need a panel of experts to tell us that a lack of sleep makes us grumpy. And of course, this irritability can have very damaging effects on a person’s relationship with her partner. However, sleep deprivation may do more than simply make you cranky. Research indicates that chronic sleeplessness can increase a person’s chances for developing a mood disorder, like depression or anxiety. Disorders like this are serious; so are their effects on a relationship.
Sleep Deprivation Impacts Intimacy
Sexual intimacy is key to maintaining a healthy, happy relationship, but sleep deprivation decreases sex drive. Women who are chronically sleepless show a definite decrease in their desire for sex, since women tend to prioritize sleep needs over sexual needs (but men generally don’t!) However, even though men may be more inclined to put their exhaustion on hold for intimacy, they, too, are affected by a lack of sleep. A 2011 study from the University of Chicago found that persistent sleep deprivation for men can lead to decreased testosterone levels.
If your sleep deprivation has led you to co-sleep with your baby, that can take a toll on sexual intimacy as well. Of course, some parents find co-sleeping works well for their family, but if you find yourself co-sleeping out of desperation, in an attempt to get your baby to sleep a little better and a little longer, it can be another story. Sexual intimacy isn’t exactly happening when there’s a baby lying between you and your partner, after all!
Sleep Deprivation Impacts Emotional Intelligence
It’s obvious that sleep deprivation affects a person’s cognitive abilities, making it harder to solve problems and think clearly. But it turns out that chronic sleeplessness also affects our emotional intelligence. A 2010 study found that sleep deprivation makes it hard for people to interpret the facial expressions of others in order to gauge the other person’s emotions. In your relationship, this translates into greater difficulties communicating with your partner, since your exhaustion impairs your judgment and makes it hard to interpret your partner’s emotions.
It’s Not All Bad News, However…There’s Hope!
There’s lots of bad news when it comes to sleep deprivation and its effects on marriage and other relationships. There is good news, though: you don’t have to settle for constant, chronic sleeplessness! You don’t have to let exhaustion become your “new normal.” And you don’t have to feel powerless when it comes to healing your relationship. You can take steps right now, starting today, to help your child build healthy sleep habits that will lead to more restorative sleep for everyone in your home. And if you do, it may just mean a happier, healthier relationship!
Our testimonial page is full of real stories from parents who admit that their constant fatigue was making them cranky and miserable. All of these parents found help through the Baby Sleep Site — by reading an e-book, by exploring resources in the members’ area, or by purchasing a consultation package. They were able to foster healthy sleep habits with their babies, and they themselves began getting the rest they needed in order to focus more time and energy on their partners.
There are two steps you can take today to banish your exhaustion and reclaim your relationship:
- Talk to your partner or loved one. Acknowledge that you (or maybe both of you!) are sleep deprived and that it’s affecting your relationship. Once you’ve named the problem, you can begin to work on a solution. Then, begin the discussion about how you’re going to tackle your baby’s sleep issues. Remember that sleep training can sometimes be a contentious topic between two people; check out this article about how to communicate well with your partner for tips on starting the sleep training conversation.
- Develop a plan. Like anything else in life, teaching your baby to sleep well goes best if you have a plan in place. We have a number of resources to help you get started on the journey to better sleep. If you’re interested in a more do-it-yourself approach, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes an objective point of view is all that’s standing in the way of getting started and getting both of you on board.
Parenting is challenging; that’s a fact. However, parenting doesn’t require that you endure months (or even years!) of sleeplessness at the expense of your relationship. Contact us today for help!
Has sleep deprivation affected your relationship? Share your story!
Decided it’s time to sleep train? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.