Is lack of sleep effecting your relationships?

I don’t need to tell you that lack of sleep makes you irritable and short-tempered. We all know, through experience, how sleep deprivation short-circuits us.

Still, as with the cognitive impacts of sleep deprivation, most people do not realize how profound sleep deprivation is, especially when chronic, that it affects their emotional well-being, affecting their mental health, your perspective and performance, and your relationships.

Sleep deprivation makes you more emotionally reactive

Whether you get angry at a coworker, fought with your partner, or lost your cool with your children, not getting enough sleep increases the likelihood that your emotional responses will be more impulsive and intense. Neither of these situations are fun, or contribute to healthier, happier relationships. But emotional reactivity goes beyond being irritable. That same hair trigger that makes us irritable with the people around us can be exhausting and exhausting, leaving us at the mercy of our feelings and criticizing us for not being more adept at managing our own emotions.

Even a single night of sleep deprivation prepares us to react more strongly and impulsively to negative or unpleasant situations, according to research. And when operating on chronic sleep debt, as so many busy adults do, you are faced with this heightened emotional reactivity on a daily basis.

We are still learning about the ways that dreams and emotions are connected and there are plenty of sleep mysteries that neuroscience is still unable to figure out. But we do know some pretty cool things about how sleep deprivation affects complex emotional centers in the brain, making us more likely to overreact or lash out at anger and frustration.

Research shows that sleep deprivation increases activity in the brain’s fast-responding emotional center, an area known as the amygdala. This part of the brain controls many of our immediate emotional reactions. When sleep is short, the amygdala speeds up, which makes us react more intensely to situations. Interestingly, it’s not just our negative emotions, such as anger and fear, that get the most response. Studies show that when we lack sleep, we are more reactive across the spectrum of our emotions, positive and negative.

At the same time that the amygdala turns on, lack of sleep also hinders communication between the amygdala and another area of ​​the brain involved in emotional regulation – the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain handles many complex tasks, and one of them is curbing impulsivity. The prefrontal cortex is like a traffic cop for our emotions: it sees an impulsive reaction and says, “slow down, do you really need to go that fast?”

When you don’t get enough sleep, this part of your brain can’t do its job as well, and you become more impulsive and less considerate in your emotional responses.

We all go through emotionally charged experiences, big and small, every day and throughout our lives. Those experiences are stored in the brain as memories, and sleep plays an important role in processing those memories. REM sleep in particular seems to be especially important for processing painful and difficult memories. This process helps ease the emotional sting these memories can have. It also helps your emotional mind return to a less charged and more neutral state. This late-night emotional recovery is important to your ongoing mental health.

REM sleep occurs in a series of episodes during the course of a night’s sleep. As the night progresses, REM episodes become longer, with most of them occurring in the last third of the night. When your sleep is interrupted, your brain doesn’t get the benefit of this restorative work, and your emotional life can suffer.

You have a more negative point of view

Knowing how the emotional centers of our brain are affected by lack of sleep, it is not difficult to imagine how sleep deprivation can contribute to a more negative mindset. Poor sleep makes us focus more on the negative, and increases what psychologists call repetitive negative thinking – it’s when your mind is stuck in a negative place, going over the same frustrated thoughts over and over again. Repetitive negative thoughts are intrusive, difficult to control, and can have a huge impact on how you feel and function. They are also linked to the development of mood disorders, depression and anxiety.

A new study shows that sleep-deprived people have more repetitive negative thoughts and are less able to control their minds’ fixation on the negative than their better-rested counterparts. The scientists also found that the greater the sleep deprivation, the more difficult it was for people to stop thinking negative thoughts, feelings and experiences. No one would choose to have a mind caught in a negative thought cycle. Unfortunately, when you’re chronically short of sleep, that’s what happens – and it can be a tough cycle to break.

You care more about the future

Sleep deprivation exacerbates emotional reactivity and fearful responses, and creates an often intractable negative outlook. It also makes us worry more. Recent research shows that when we are sleep deprived, we worry more about the future, especially if we are prone to worry in general.

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley conducted a fascinating study, in which they found that sleep deprivation increases anticipatory anxiety; That is worrisome. We have long known that sleep deprivation increases anxiety and contributes to anxiety disorders. (In turn, anxiety makes sleeping more difficult.) Their study provides important new information about how lack of sleep exacerbates the brain’s worry response.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a fascinating study, in which they found that sleep deprivation increases our tendency to worry about the future, a form of worry that scientists call anticipatory anxiety. The researchers looked at brain scans of 18 healthy young adults, while looking at images that contained emotionally disturbing and emotionally neutral content. To stimulate anticipatory anxiety, the scientists gave the participants a cue before viewing individual images, letting them know that they were about to see a disturbing image. The scientists observed and measured brain responses among the participants, both when they were well rested and when they were sleep deprived.

Brain activity in response to the early cue was much higher when the participants were sleep deprived than when they were well rested. Once again, it was the brain’s emotional control centers that were activated by lack of sleep and contributed to increased anxiety about the future.

The scientists found that sleep deprivation triggered more anticipatory anxiety in people who were already prone to worry. If you tend to worry, getting plenty of rest is especially critical to maintaining a healthy emotional balance and avoiding the development of chronic anxiety.

You feel less connected and grateful to your partner

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect our individual emotional well-being. It also undermines healthy and fulfilling relationships. Sleep deprivation can sink a healthy sex life. It can also interfere with other forms of intimacy between couples.

Of course, being more emotionally reactive and focused on the negative is not likely to improve anyone’s relationship. But sleep deprivation also directly affects how we perceive and treat our partners.

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley found that lack of sleep decreases gratitude towards our romantic partners. A really cool aspect of this study? The researchers found that it only took one person in the relationship to have little sleep for both partners to feel a decrease in their sense of gratitude towards the other. That’s right: your partner’s lack of sleep can make you appreciate them less, even if you don’t lack sleep.

Sleep deprivation also lowers our capacity for empathy, an emotional skill that is critical to healthy relationships. Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

Scientists recently studied the effects of sleep on emotional empathy and found that when we are sleep deprived, we are less able to show empathy for others. That means we are less able to see things from someone else’s point of view, less able to recognize and imagine their feelings. This lines up with other research showing that sleep deprivation affects our ability to accurately recognize emotions in other people.

These skills of self-awareness, appreciation for others, and empathy are essential parts of our emotional intelligence, and sleep deprivation impairs them, often weakening our bonds of trust and communication in the relationships that are most important to us. Studies show that couples who are sleep deprived struggle more and resolve conflicts less successfully than well-rested couples. And it only takes one person in a couple who doesn’t get enough sleep to increase conflict, according to research.

Women and men experience sleep deprivation emotions differently

As with other aspects of sleep deprivation, men and women seem to experience some of the emotional impact of poor sleep differently. A study found that women experience more anger, more hostility, and more depression first thing in the morning than men.

We know that in general, women’s brains use more energy than men’s. Most scientists attribute this to the ability of women to multitask. That extra energy expenditure means that women need more sleep to restore their brains to full and healthy function. When they don’t get the full amount of restful sleep they need, emotional difficulties may arise. They also arise for men, but those for women can occur more quickly or more frequently, due to the particular sleep needs of women.

The relationship of sleep to our emotional lives is another important example of why sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Your mental and emotional health – and your relationships with others, in your personal and professional life – depend on getting high-quality rest.

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