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How can lack of sleep hurt my relationship with my partner?

Carol Ash, DO
Pulmonary Disease

Sleep is critical to our health and well being; if you get poor sleep regularly, it will impact your health and by extension, your relationship with your partner. Watch internist and sleep expert Carol Ash, DO, explain why sleep is so important.


Sleep can pose a number of challenges to relationships. Poor sleep can make for difficult sleeping conditions for couples. The tossing and turning of insomnia and the noisy, disrupted sleep of snoring and sleep apnea don’t just diminish the quality of sleep for the individuals with the disorder. They also rob partners of restful sleep. Night owls and larks who share a bed may also have difficulty marrying their sleep schedules. If you’re an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, having a partner who likes to read or watch television late into the night can interfere with sleep.

These may be among the reasons why an increasing number of couples are choosing to sleep in separate beds. Research shows as many as 25% of couples are sleeping separately, and this is a number that’s been rising for years. The separate-bed strategy may seem like an attractive option for couples struggling to sleep together well. But it’s important to consider what might be lost in this choice. I’m talking about the intimacy created by sharing a bed. And I’m not only talking about sexual intimacy, although that’s certainly a risk of sharing separate beds. (At the very least, couples are much less likely to have spontaneous sex if they’re not sleeping together.) I’m also talking about the sense of togetherness and emotional connection that comes from sleeping together.

What’s more, sleeping together can actually reinforce good sleep habits. Partners who sleep together can be a positive influence when it comes to keeping reasonable bedtimes, and not falling asleep to the television. Studies have shown that sleep apnea patients who use CPAP therapy are 60% more likely to stick with the treatment if their partners continue to share a bed, rather than sleeping separately.

This latest research makes sense given what we know about how sleep affects mood and outlook, as well as emotional and mental health. Poor quality sleep and insufficient sleep can negatively affect mood and judgment, making us cranky and less apt to greet the inevitable ups and downs of life with perspective and an even keel. Research shows that poor sleep increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety, conditions that themselves can interfere with sleep. So it’s not surprising that gratitude might diminish when we’re short on sleep, and that the people closest to us -- our partners -- might bear the brunt of this diminished sense of appreciation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.