A brain without adequate sleep can make for a grouchy kind of day. However, a relationship without sleep is like “Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh my!” Allow me to explain…do you remember The Wizard of Oz? And more importantly, do you remember the scene where they chant this classic movie line? It’s an accurate portrayal of the risk to your brain and your relationships when you miss a restful night of Z’s:
Dorothy, Tin Man, and Scarecrow are entering the ominous woods on the way to the Emerald City, nervous to say the least. They link arms and gallop down the yellow-brick road chanting “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. . .” scanning the shadows for something that might jump. Enter the Cowardly Lion – ROOOAAARR—super scary at first, until later we discover he’s only a big ball of nerves.
Studies suggest that –much like trying to find your way through the woods in the dark—a night of broken sleep alters your brain so that it gets stuck on high alert. Suddenly, you can’t distinguish between what is significant threat and what is not: every sound of a twig snapping, or leaf rustling, or minor blip in your plans, must be a lion, tiger, or bear. Limited sleep also reduces the ability to read a partner’s emotions while increasing one’s own negative emotions. In other words, after a night of insomnia, your partner might look and sound scarier than they really are; the slightest scowl, frown, or growl can read like an angry carnivore.
Needless to say, when one or both partners are lacking sleep, it can be a recipe for increased and unnecessary conflict! We wake up exhausted and feel as friendly as a flying monkey. But what can we do about it? Here are three tips to keep a poor night’s sleep from sabotaging your good relationship vibes:
Ask for support. Let your loved one know that you didn’t sleep well and put it out there as gently as you can: “Hey, Babe, I didn’t sleep well last night, so bear with me today.” Asking for help and accepting that it was a difficult night supports a more positive attitude in general.
DON’T talk about the tough stuff. For the most part, avoiding conflict isn’t helpful, but the rules change after a sleepless night. Tell yourself, “I know this mountain of dirty clothes on the floor (when we just talked about cleaning up) feels like a Supreme Court case – but I’ll give it a few days. If I still feel miffed after a good night’s sleep, I’ll mention it.”
Take a criticism detour. You can’t change that you had a rough night, but you can make it a goal to steer clear of the negative things your sleep-deprived brain are more apt to see. Swear off any form of criticism. Instead, choose to thank her when she brings you coffee, or when he fills your gas tank. The more appreciation you can express, especially after a night of tossing and turning, the more positive you’ll both feel!