All couples have disagreements, and most of us know it’s easier to fall into fractious bickering when we’re tired. But there’s a genuine health benefit to avoiding touchy subjects when both people in a partnership are sleep-deprived, according to new research.
Researchers from the the Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research tested couples for stress-related inflammatory responses, which have been linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis. They found that having less sleep didn’t automatically mean that people woke up and came into the lab with increased inflammation markers. The responses were triggered if they engaged in a stressful conversation with their partner.
Two things could stop the process from triggering, however. If one partner had had “enough” sleep, which the researchers defined as more than seven hours, neither suffered a significantly increased inflammatory response. And if the partners held their discussion in a more sensitive way—being emotionally open and not holding back—they also avoided the negative effects.
The study involved 43 couples who each came into the lab on two separate occasions. Each time they were asked to observe certain conditions, like abstaining from stimulants, prior to the visit, and were given special foods in an attempt to limit any other reasons for inflammation. The couple was then asked to discuss a topic—like money or their in-laws—that had previously been identified as stressful for them. The researchers took blood samples from each couple before and after.