Never go to sleep on an argument, goes the old saying. And research suggests that might be just as important for your health as your relationship.
The research has found links between how valued a person feels in their relationship and the quality of their sleep.
Dr Emre Selçuk, a Turkish developmental and social psychologist led the study for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, an academic society with more than 5500 professional members worldwide.
Scientists observed 698 married or cohabiting adults aged 35-66. They found those who were paid more attention by their partners were more likely to achieve good amounts of deep “restorative” sleep, which is crucial for good health.
Some of the couples wore wristwatch-like gadgets that monitored movement for a week, to provide objective data on how well they slept.
Each man and woman also provided information about how much their partner or spouse cared for them, how well they understood them and how appreciated they felt.
They answered questions about how anxious they were and whether they were depressed and provided information on their general health.
Crunching together all the information revealed those who were in the most ‘responsive’ relationships, defined as feeling understood and cared for, slept best.
The finding held even when other factors that can affect sleep – such as age, weight and general health – were taken into account.
Selçuk said just as children sleep better safe in the knowledge their parents are nearby, spouses find it easier to relax when they feel secure and content.
“Anxiety disrupts sleep by increasing nightly awakenings and resulting in poorer daytime functioning,” he said.
“Social relationships are thought to counteract this process, as they are a potent source of safety and protection and they down-regulate perceptions of threat.”
With poor sleep linked to a host of health problems, from heart disease and memory loss to obesity and diabetes, Selçuk said a loving relationship could bring multiple benefits.
One of the most important functions of sleep is to protect us against deteriorations in physical health. However, this protective function can only be realised when we have high-quality uninterrupted sleep, known as restorative sleep.
Restorative sleep requires feelings of safety, security, protection and absence of threats. For humans, the strongest source of feelings of safety and security is responsive social partners – whether parents in childhood or romantic partners in adulthood.
Selçuk concluded: “Our findings show that individuals with responsive partners experience lower anxiety and arousal, which in turn improves their sleep quality.
“Having responsive partners who would be available to protect and comfort us should things go wrong is the most effective way for us humans to reduce anxiety, tension and arousal.”
The research supports findings from the past several years by an international collaboration of researchers in Turkey and the US.
Using data from the Midlife Development in the United States project, past projects from the researchers have shown connections between partner responsiveness, physical health and psychological wellbeing over several years.