I’ve noticed that, come speech time at weddings (my favorite part), there is a certain piece of advice that will almost certainly be uttered into the microphone. Whether it’s the father of the bride, a long-married matron of honor, or the groom’s batty Aunt Rose, someone always seems to advise the cheery newlyweds to “never go to bed angry.” Does this little nugget of wisdom truly deserve to surpass “be kind to each other” or “do the dishes without being asked”? Probably so; if you’re concerned about getting a good night’s sleep, “never go to bed angry” just might be the best advice out there.
If you’re anything like I am, you’re an annoying bossy monster when it comes to protecting your sacred sleep time. And for good reason! Sleep is an important health behavior—lack of sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other health issues. Even getting 6 hours of sleep (instead of the recommended 8 hours) can cause a stress response, cognitive deficits, and hinder your immune system.1 It’s also possibly the health behavior that relationships impact the most. You may not always eat or exercise with your partner, but chances are that you share a bed with your partner. This may mean that your nights are punctuated with disruptive snores and who-stole-the-covers battles. Or, as in my case, perhaps you wake up to accusations that you tried to beat the snores out of your partner in your sleep. No comment.
So what about this whole going-to-bed-angry business? Does it matter? In a study of 39 cohabitating couples, researchers used daily diaries to ask participants about their conflicts with one another every night and the quality of their sleep every morning for 3 weeks.2 When couples reported quarreling the night before, they were significantly more likely to report sleep disruptions the next morning. This was especially true for individuals high in attachment anxiety—those who tend to be clingy and particularly concerned with maintaining intimacy in their relationships. They may have been particularly likely to ruminate about the fight. However, this was less true for individuals who were high in attachment avoidance—those who are particularly restrained in their relationship interactions and prefer higher levels of independence. This is one instance when attachment avoidance may protect individuals from negative relationship events!
There is also great evidence that this works the other way around as well: We are more likely to fight with our partners after a poor night’s sleep (read more about this research here). You know, vicious circle.
So perhaps Aunt Rose and the fathers of the brides are right: Make up before going to bed, if you can. It’s likely to lead to a better night’s sleep, ward off future fighting (and perhaps even that nasty cold that seems to be going around.
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1Pejovic, S., Basta, M., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., Shaffer, M. L., Tsaossoglou, M., at al. (2013). The effects of recovery sleep after one work week of mild sleep restriction on interleukin-6 and cortisol secretion and daytime sleepiness and performance. American Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Published online August 13, 2013. DOI:
2Hicks, A. M., & Diamond, L. M. (2011). Don’t go to bed angry: Attachment, conflict, and affective and physiological reactivity. Personal Relationships, 18, 266-284. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01355.x
Dr. Maryhope Howland Rutherford – Science of Relationships articles
Maryhope’s research explores how interactions in close relationships, such as the provision of social support, may impact our our mental and physical health. She is also interested in how our ability to read our partners’ minds (also called empathic accuracy) impacts our relationships and our ability to provide good support to our partners. Her other research interests include humor in relationships, relationships and sleep, and social aspects of eating behaviors.