It's Valentine's Day, which means across the country people will be dashing out to florists and choclatiers to pick something up for their special someone. But if you want to avoid the crowds, save yourself some money, and surprise your better half with an unexpected gift this year, science has another idea -- give your sweetheart the gift of a little more sleep.
This might sound like a counterintuitive suggestion. After all, many people have other plans for their bed tonight rather than slumber. But a heap of research shows that helping your partner get on a healthy and regular sleep schedule (so no more begging for just one more episode of your favorite Netflix show!) or getting up with the kids to give them a lie in, won't just win you smiles and appreciation, it will actually improve the quality of your relationship.
The relationship between sleep quality and relationship quality
The idea that better sleep leads to better relationships probably won't shock anyone who has ever gotten up grumpy from a terrible night's sleep and picked a fight with their partner (so pretty much all of us then). Not being a zombie improves just about every aspect of life. But in a recent article for UC Berkeley's Greater Good Research Center Jill Suttie goes beyond the obvious to explain specific, unexpected ways science has linked happy relationships and adequate sleep.
For example, lack of sleep has been proven to make us reluctant to approach others. "In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers scanned people's brains after they slept normally or had a night of sleep deprivation to see how they reacted to strangers," Suttie writes. "When participants had suffered abnormal sleep, they wanted the person to stop at a much greater distance than they did after a night of normal sleep."
Exhaustion keeps us physically away from the ones we love. And when we do manage to connect, we're less likely to empathize, according to other research. "When we sleep poorly, the parts of our brain devoted to emotional empathy don't function as well, according to one recent study," Suttie notes.
Finally, just as you probably suspected, science confirms that lack of sleep makes people grumpy. In one study participants either slept well or had their sleep restricted before being "asked to do a difficult task while listening to very aversive noise, bound to make them irritated. Those who'd restricted their sleep became much angrier during the task and did not adapt well to the noise," Suttie reports.
"Women who sleep poorly are more frequently aggressive toward their partners," she adds (surprising no new mother ever).
The bottom line is that if you're looking for a gift that's going to actually improve your relationship long-term and make your partner's life genuinely and deeply better, there's basically nothing better than a comfy pillow and permission to turn that alarm off for a day.