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Lack of Sleep Linked to Marital Conflict

Update Date: Jun 28, 2017 09:28 AM EDT

When resolving a fight with your partner, your lack of sleep may be the last thing on your mind. But according to researchers at Ohio State University, it should be front and center. Not just for your bouts of frustration towards one another, but also for its ability to put you at risk for stress-related inflammation.

"We know sleep problems are also linked with inflammation and many of the same chronic illnesses. So we were interested to see how sleep related to inflammation among married couples, and whether one partner's sleep affected the other's inflammation," said Stephanie Wilson, lead researcher of the study.

In addition to providing blood samples, the 43 tested couples were asked how many hours they slept and were told to discuss a topic that instigated conflict in their marriage. After the discussion, blood samples were retrieved again.

 "We found that people who slept less in the past few nights didn't wake up with higher inflammation, but they had a greater inflammatory response to the conflict. So that tells us less sleep increased vulnerability to a stressor," said Wilson.

Couples who were more likely to become hostile towards one another received less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Also, with each hour of sleep lost, two inflammatory markers increased by 6 percent. Those who unhealthily resolved conflicts showed levels that increased by 10 percent with each hour of sleep lost.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to resolve sleep issues when you live with a partner who has them. "Part of the issue in a marriage is that sleep patterns often track together. If one person is restless, or has chronic problems, that can impact the other's sleep. If these problems persist over time, you can get this nasty reverberation within the couple," said senior author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser.

There is something that can be done about conflict. The researchers found partners who were well rested or were healthy in their communication were able to neutralize a conflict, even with a very sleepy spouse.

"We would tell people that it's important to find good ways to process the relationship and resolve conflict -- and get some sleep," Kiecolt-Glaser said.

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