THE DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Study shows sleep affects women’s relationships

Brendan Owens | July 5, 2011    

A new Pitt study suggests the old axiom is true; when she’s not happy, he’s not… A new Pitt study suggests the old axiom is true; when she’s not happy, he’s not happy.

The study showed that a woman’s lack of sleep could have a large affect on the relationship, whereas a man’s lack of sleep had none.

Wendy Troxel, assistant professor of psychiatry, made national headlines last month after completing research on married couples’ sleep habits and their behaviors the next day. The study was presented at Sleep 2011, the 25th anniversary meeting of Associated Sleep Societies in Minneapolis.

Troxel found that a wife’s inability to sleep could affect the couples’ relationship, whereas a husband’s inability to sleep seemed to have no impact at all. The study reported that the longer it took the woman to fall asleep, the more likely both partners were to address negative interactions with their spouse the next day, including feeling ignored or criticized.

“Our findings show that when wives took longer to fall asleep, the next day they reported lower marital functions and so did their husbands.

We did not find the same effect for husbands,” Troxel said.

Although the research was done on the University campus, no college students were involved. Troxel, however, speculates that the results might be similar for student relationships.

“I would expect similar patterns to emerge, though the nature of sleeping together in college versus a stable married relationship is quite different,” Troxel said. “In fact, [in] college relationships, even good ones, the initial stage of sleeping with another human being actually takes some getting used to. So it may be harder to tell if it’s the quality of the relationship affecting sleep or the newness of it.”

Although the study excluded college students, Amy Monpara, a senior in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, agreed with Troxel on her opinion of college relationships, especially judging by her own.  

“I am crankier, so it does affect us,” Monpara said, regarding those instances when she gets less sleep with her boyfriend. “I can tell when he gets less sleep, but I feel like it’s worse when I don’t [get enough sleep].”

The research was conducted by observing couples over a 10-night period. Thirty-five couples, averaging 32 years in age, were monitored for patterns of rest and activity in their sleep using a watch-sized instrument called an actigraph, which is used to record physical activity.

The researchers measured the amount of time it took to fall asleep, total sleep time and the number of times the participants woke up during the night.

The participants then reported their results on daily questionnaires. They specified whether they had negative or positive reactions with their significant others.  

On average, the reports showed more negative than positive interactions when women had problems falling asleep.

Troxel believes that the disparity of behavior between husbands and wives both experiencing a lack of sleep could be attributed to studies showing that women are more expressive and communicative in relationships. This might lead men to pick up more on their wives’ irritability since they express it more.

“Women tend to drive the climate of the relationship, so it makes sense that the husband would pick up the cues from his wife,” Troxel said.

Troxel believes that this study should serve as an alarm for all couples dealing with sleep disorders.

“I think it’s a wake-up call when we increasingly have to find reasons to sacrifice our sleep.

This is just one more reason to show that your relationship could depend on the quality of your sleep as well as your physical health and mental health.”

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