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Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling grouchy and ready for an argument. New research out of the Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research indicates that this combination of sleep loss and marital arguments can lead to stress-related inflammation, which puts one at higher risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.
Stephanie Wilson, lead researcher, noted that scientists already know that sleep deprivation is linked to chronic diseases, especially those related to inflammation; however, their primary goal in this study was to determine if there was an association between sleep loss and inflammation among married couples and whether sleep problems in one could affect inflammation in the other.
Findings were published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
A total of 43 couples completed two study visits. Blood samples were taken from each person, and all participants were asked to report the number of hours they slept during the previous two nights. Afterwards, scientists asked couples to attempt to solve an issue that causes conflict in their marriage. After the discussion, blood samples were again taken.
Ms. Wilson noted that people who received fewer hours of sleep over a couple of nights did not have more inflammation; however, they did have a greater inflammatory response during the stage of conflict resolution. This confirms that sleep loss made them more vulnerable to stressors.
Hostility and arguments were more prevalent in couples where both partners received fewer than seven hours of sleep over two nights. For every hour of lost sleep, there was a 6% increase in the levels of two well-known inflammatory markers. Additionally, researchers noted that people who used unhealthy tactics during the conflict or disagreement were more likely to have a greater inflammatory response, showing a 10% increase in markers with every hour of sleep lost.
Ms. Wilson notes that protracted increases that are not being addressed can become a serious health concern. The most concerning component is that marital spats and sleep loss are common daily occurrences for most people. Approximately 50% of couples in this research got less than the recommended number of hours for sleep.
That number is above the national average, in which the CDC reports 35% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep each night.
Senior author of the study and director of the Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, noted that one aspect of the problem is that, in marriage, sleep patterns are meshed together. If one has chronic sleep problems with restlessness and sleep loss, the other’s sleep is certainly affected. When this is a persistent problem, you can sense the friction between the couple.
Researchers noted a positive finding in that there was a protective effect if at least one of the partners addressed the conflict with healthy tactics or got enough quality sleep. Those individuals neutralized the problem that may have been inflamed by the partner who was sleep deprived.
Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser noted that this research allows the opportunity to help couples realize the importance of developing good, healthy ways to resolve conflicts and process the relationship by getting more sleep.