COLUMBUS, Ohio – It is a given that spouses sometimes spat, but couples who frequently feud while fatigued are actually putting themselves at greater risk of some serious illnesses. A new study gives credence to the saying, “Don’t go to bed angry.”
Researchers at Ohio State University wanted to know more about what happens on a physical level when couples have patterns of unresolved fighting.
“We tested their blood for common inflammation markers known as interleukin 6 and TNF alpha,” explains lead researcher Stephanie Wilson in a university news release. “We found that when both factors came into play, a loss of sleep followed by conflict, there was about a ten percent increase in inflammation.”
Researchers tested blood samples of quarreling couples before and after disagreements. The results showed that spats combined with less sleep increased measurements in their blood for inflammation.
The type of inflammation researchers found in these spatting spouses has been associated with major medical problems — heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease — but only when the levels remain high over the long term.
Researchers want to reassure couples that a falling-out combined with one night of lost sleep is not a reason to worry. They are concerned with what happens when a person has a small increase in inflammation over a long period of time, like the proverbial dripping water that wears away the stone.
When there is a pattern of fighting and sleeplessness, researchers say it’s time for couples to learn how to fight fair, or better yet calmly discuss areas of conflict. The alternative, having higher levels of inflammation, could mean health problems for one or both spouses.
“Sleep is a major component in all of this,” says Wilson. “Couples were more hostile to each other if they both had less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep. However, if at least one partner was well-rested, there was a protective effect. They helped to neutralize the disagreement.”
The silver lining coming out of this study is that couples who learn how to stay calm during clashes not only improve their marriages; they lower the inflammation levels in their blood. Peaceful conflict resolution is easier to achieve if just one person is well rested.
The study’s findings were published in the May 2017 edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.