How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Key Relationships and How to Make Them Better
It’s bad enough your baby woke up five times last night. Here comes your partner with some ridiculous questions, such as what’s for breakfast or where the 6-year-old’s shoes are. Shouting and tears ensue. Once the coast is clear, you sit down (exhaustedly) on the couch, watching the I-can’t-sleep-if-it’s-nighttime baby now snoozing peacefully. And you wonder, what happened?!
Having a child that won’t sleep through the night or take naps longer than 30 minutes at a time is hard. It can also put a severe strain on your relationship with your significant other. Sleep deprivation, added to the stress of not knowing how to help your baby sleep, can create a negative cycle with your partner. This, in turn, can make it even harder to get on the same page about the sleep training itself and so on.
I am here to help you break the cycle and keep your relationship strong.
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Most of us know what it’s like not to get enough sleep because it has happened to so many of us at some point. With an infant or a small child that won’t sleep, this is not something that happens once or twice. It happens over and over again, and unless you get your child’s sleep on track, it will continue to happen. This means there’s no opportunity to ‘catch up’ on your sleep the next day or week. However little sleep you got today it’s most likely you will get just as little sleep the next day and the day after that.
We know what it feels like, but what are some other consequences of not getting enough sleep?
For most people, our brains require 7-9 hours of sleep to get us ready for the next day. The immediate effects of sleep deprivation can range from tiredness to crankiness to making mistakes while completing daily tasks.
Without sleep, we’re more likely to be irritable, short-tempered, and impatient. None of that sounds like it would help in communicating with your significant other. Remember those shoes I mentioned above? Of course, if both partners had been well-rested, that question would’ve never led to the drama. Either the first person remembered where the shoes were, or the second person would calmly find them. And all would be well. Alas, sleep-deprived brains cannot handle frustration well. Sleep-deprived brains often don’t have the emotional constancy to say “they’re where they always are” calmly.
Finding the right words, being aware of tone, and even choosing not to say something at all requires emotional constancy and self-regulation. These tend to be in short supply when you haven’t had enough sleep. When we’re tired, it can also be harder to remember when we promised to do something, like pick up extra milk or call the plumber. This can erode trust in a relationship and set you up for more problems down the road.
A little snipping between parents can be normal. When lack of sleep causes partners to fight constantly, that’s when it can create long-term effects on the relationship. Frequently speaking with frustration or impatience can lead to miscommunication between you and your partner. That, in turn, can lead to long-term feelings of being misunderstood, resentful, and even less loved. Suddenly, a small spat about shoes turns into “You never listen to what I am saying.”
Partners that struggle with lack of sleep have a harder time fully participating in the relationship. This can range from showing their partner less gratitude to being less willing or able to engage in intimacy. Whether it’s because one partner is sleeping on the couch or because you both are just too exhausted, lack of intimacy in a relationship is an important factor that can impact the long-term success of your partnership.
In addition to relationship challenges, long-term sleep deprivation can have a profound effect on health, usually the health of the primary caretaker. Long-term effects of a lack of sleep can be weight gain, chronic stress, anxiety, or depression. If you find that either you or your partner are experiencing more serious effects of sleep deprivation, make sure you check in with your primary care physician.
What To Do?
Aside from ensuring that your baby learns to sleep through the night as soon as possible, read on for my best tips to help you and your partner get through this time.
It can be hard to be grateful when you are tired. You are not thinking about how much you appreciate your partner. You are thinking about when you can close your eyes and go to sleep. Showing your partner that you appreciate them is key to nurturing the bond between the two of you. That, in turn, makes it easier when things are hard.
Plan bonding activities
Find ways you can spend even a little bit of time with your significant other. Whether taking a walk to a nearby park, watching a favorite movie or just holding hands for a few minutes. A little goes a long way.
Take a few extra minutes
When our brains are tired, many of the filters we usually have on don’t seem to be working. We are more likely to be impatient and snap a quick answer that we might regret the next moment. Knowing that, take a little extra time to think of what you want to say before you answer. Especially if the person who is speaking already seems frustrated or upset. Remember, they probably didn’t sleep either.
It’s not unusual for one partner to be the primary caregiver to a baby, especially if this parent is breastfeeding. However, it’s critical that the other parent be as involved as possible. Sharing responsibilities between you will make the work easier. It will decrease the feelings of resentment that one partner can feel toward another.
The bonus is that when both partners share the load, the baby is unlikely to reject the other partner during high-stress moments, such as in the middle of the night. This helps establish a solid bond between both parents and the baby, in addition to solidifying the bond with your partner.
Make a plan
It can be hard to make decisions in the middle of the night. Or another high-stress moment. So do yourselves a favor and talk to your partner about your plan before the time to implement it happens. Who will get up to give the baby more milk? How long will you wait to see if your child goes back to sleep on their own before going in to help? Who will take the first shift, and who will take the second?
Once you make the decisions – I strongly recommend that you write them down. That way, when in the middle of the night you can’t remember what you decided all you have to do is look at what you wrote. It won’t be the magic bullet, but it will help.
Work as a team
When you work together with your partner to make decisions and then stick to them you will both feel more supported. Whether about sleep training, how to handle your mother-in-law, or knowing who will take out the garbage.
There’s nothing better than knowing that you can rely on your partner to have your back. No matter how tired they are. No matter if they just came home from work or just finished washing a sink-full of dishes. Knowing that you can work together to tackle whatever stands in your way.
You were strong before the sleep deprivation kicked in. Keep going.
The Good News
You will make it.
Sleep deprivation is a reality for almost all new parents, even though it doesn’t have to be. It can be hard on your relationship with your significant other. Let’s be honest, lack of sleep makes everything harder.
Let’s also not forget that this is one of the most important and wonderful moments of your life. However, you won’t be able to cherish this time if you’re constantly frustrated or fighting with your partner because you are sleep deprived.
So, make your little one’s sleep a priority. It’s essential for both your child’s well-being and the health of your relationship. Try taking a week to commit to getting your little one to sleep through the night. You will be amazed!
If you need help figuring out how to get your little one to sleep through the night, feel free to schedule a chat with us. We would love to help you get your nights back.