Sleep, Relationships, and Well-being

Sleep is important for psychological and physical well-being. It is well-established that high sleepiness can negatively affect day-to-day functioning and can increase irritability. But how badly can sleep negatively affect relationships? And can it affect overall self-rated health?

Using data from a large cohort of individuals (over 37,000), a group of researchers was able to examine whether or not nighttime sleep duration and self-reported relationship distress were related. They also examined how overall self-rated health was related to these measures. By using a unique type of analysis called a mediation, the researchers were able to see which factor lead to what. In other words, they were able to see whether relationship distress caused poor sleep or vise versa. They were also able to examine which factors seemed to affect well-being.

Overall, results showed that high relationship stress was a predictor of poor well-being. Interestingly, poor sleep was a mediator between these factors. In other words, poor sleep is a necessary factor. Therefore, high relationship stress seems to affect sleep negatively, and poor sleep affects overall health negatively.

Why might this information be important for those suffering from sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is hard on relationships. Untreated apnea leaves snoring/breathing pauses during the night, and this can affect the sleep of a bed partner. What’s more, untreated apnea will lead to grogginess/irritability that can affect day-to-day relationships (e.g., with co-workers). Even when sleep apnea is treated, a bed partner must learn to tolerate the CPAP machine. All of these factors combined lead to the potential for relationship distress. This study has shown that distress leads to more sleep problems, which has an effect on overall health. Therefore, it can become an endless cycle if distress is not resolved early on. The message here is that sleep is important, and factors affecting sleep must be resolved before they lead to even more sleep problems. Above all, sticking to CPAP treatment (and speaking to your bed partner about it regularly) can and will help your health.


Source: Meadows, R., & Arber, S. (2015). Marital Status, Relationship Distress, and Self-rated Health What Role for “Sleep Problems”?. Journal of health and social behavior, 0022146515593948.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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