Study: Lack of Sleep + Spat with Spouse = Potential Health Problems

Researchers find that inflammation markers rise in tired couples who fight

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Like all couples, Scott and Dana Griffith, of Westerville, Ohio, admit to having their share of disagreements in their 20 years of marriage, but make it a point to never hold a grudge. A new study from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows that couples who don’t get enough sleep and can’t settle conflicts effectively have higher levels of inflammation in their blood, which can lead to health problems long-term.

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – A lack of sleep can certainly lead to crankiness and a spat with your spouse, but new research shows that if it happens consistently, it could take a serious toll on your health.

    Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center took blood samples from couples before and after an argument, and found that spouses who fought after not getting enough sleep had higher levels of inflammation than normal.

    “We tested their blood for common inflammation markers known as interleukin 6 and TNF alpha,” said Stephanie Wilson, PhD, the lead researcher. “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.”

    Losing one night of sleep isn’t likely to cause major health problems, but increased levels of inflammation over extended periods of time is associated with serious medical problems, including heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.

    “What we worry about in a study like this is having even a relatively modest change in inflammation, but persistent over time,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, director of the Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “If this is a pattern, and if couples don’t find ways to effectively address their differences, having continuously elevated levels of inflammation could put them at a higher risk for a wide range of diseases.”

     The good news is, the study also found that couples who resolved conflict calmly and effectively had lower levels of inflammation. It also found that even if only one partner got adequate sleep, conflicts were less impactful.

    “Sleep is a major component in all of this,” said 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.”

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Like all couples, Scott and Dana Griffith, of Westerville, Ohio, admit to having their share of disagreements in their 20 years of marriage, but make it a point to never hold a grudge. A new study from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows that couples who don’t get enough sleep and can’t settle conflicts effectively have higher levels of inflammation in their blood, which can lead to health problems long-term.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, right, examines a blood sample with Stephanie Wilson, PhD. The pair helped conduct a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center that shows couples who don’t get enough sleep and argue have higher levels of inflammation in their blood.

A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows that couples who fight while on little sleep have higher levels of inflammation in their blood than normal.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, left, goes over the findings of a recent study with Stephanie Wilson, PhD at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The study found couples who argue while on little sleep have higher levels of inflammation in their blood than normal.