Happy Couples Sleep More Soundly
They say that marriage can be good for your health. Studies such as one in the Journal of Family Issues show that long-term couples are less likely to suffer from cancer, heart attacks and even dementia.
And it looks like quality counts. “We know a lot about how bad relationships are bad for our health, but we don’t know much about how good relationships might be good for our health,” says Sarah C. E. Stanton, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Karmanos Cancer Institute/Department of Oncology and the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University. “Partner responsiveness – the extent to which people feel validated, cared for, and understood by their romantic partner – is an important positive aspect of romantic relationships that appears to be associated with better health outcomes.”
Which brings about the question: Can couplehood also be good for sleep?
“My colleagues and I were interested in whether partner responsiveness might be linked with better sleep quality.”
Stanton is one of the researchers of the study “Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Better Sleep Quality Through Lower Anxiety,” published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science.
Almost 700 married or cohabiting American adults between 35 and 86 years old filled out questionnaires about their sleeping habits, the quality of their sleep and their daytime fatigue levels. About a third wore an actigraph, a watch-like device that measures sleep-wake behavior. The researchers compared the tracker information and questionnaire answers against how cared for, appreciated and understood the subjects felt by and for their partner.
The men and women in the most “responsive” relationships, who felt the most cared for and understood, slept the best.
“Our findings show that individuals with responsive partners experience lower anxiety and arousal, which in turn improves their sleep quality,” writes lead author Emre Selçuk, a developmental and social psychologist at Middle East Technical University in Turkey.
Sleep protects our health – but only quality, uninterrupted sleep, known as restorative sleep, which requires feeling secure and safe.
“Having responsive partners who would be available to protect and comfort us should things go wrong is the most effective way for us humans to reduce anxiety, tension and arousal,” Selçuk says.
“Anxiety disrupts sleep by increasing nightly awakenings, resulting in poorer daytime functioning,” the study notes. “Social relationships are thought to counteract this process, as they are a potent source of safety and protection and they down-regulate perceptions of threat.”
Just as children sleep better knowing their parents are around, couples sleep better knowing their partner is next to them. But there’s a caveat: Couplehood alone isn’t enough. The relationship must be a happy one.
“Taken together, the corpus of evidence we obtained in recent years suggests that our best bet for a happier, healthier and a longer life is having a responsive partner,” Selçuk says.
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