février 07, 2014

The Secret To Stronger Relationships How To Conquer The 4 Most Popular New Year's Resolutions Part 3

The period of transition from one year to the next prompts a moment of reflection when we take inventory of our accomplishments, setbacks, strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and the people who help us along the way. New Year’s resolutions offer the perfect motivation to reconnect with friends we’ve lost touch with and reiterate our gratitude to our spouses, partners and family. 

The second month of 2014 has just begun and the enthusiasm over freshly made resolutions may be starting to wear away. In January we highlighted how sleep can help you improve your mind and spirit and achieve your health and fitness goals. Are you making progress toward these?     

February is an especially important time to focus on sticking to our commitments, so this third part of our 4-part New Year’s resolutions series will open your mind and your heart to help you maintain rewarding relationships in time for Valentine’s Day and throughout the year! 

Part 3: The Secret to Stronger Relationships

Considering the feelings of personal fulfillment associated with positive interactions, it makes sense that 31% of resolutions made every year are focused on relationships.  Furthermore, a number of research studies have verified that healthy relationships are tied to happiness, life satisfaction and longevity: in other words, greater “social capital” increases our contentment, improves overall wellbeing and can help us live longer! This may all seem very logical. But, did you know that sleep can get to the heart of all of our relationships?   

I resolve to... show my husband, wife or significant other how grateful I am for him/her

Take action by... syncing your sleep routine with your partner’s; make a commitment to help each other get 7–9 hours of sleep each night, and be sure your mattress is comfortable for both of you. 

The underlying sleep science: 

Although competing schedules, differing comfort preferences, and disruptive habits like snoring can make it challenging to achieve peace every night, getting in sync and getting your sleep can make the difference between hostility and happiness in your relationship.

Studies have shown that sleep impacts your ability to nurture a sense of gratitude with your romantic partner. Not only are the sleep-deprived more likely to report selfish inclinations, they also tend to feel under-appreciated themselves; put another way, even when one partner lacks adequate sleep, both of you are more likely to believe you’re being neglected by the other. While restfulness can help promote mutual respect, a reliable and loving sleeping partner can also help you get the quality shut-eye you need.

Some scientists have specifically examined the connection between the quality of our close relationships and the quality of our sleep. As is common when we consider the role of sleep in our health and behavior, when one suffers so does the other and vice versa; this is shown to be true in relationships as well. Studies in this area have led to theories that tie this correlation to fluctuations in levels of cellular proteins that regulate our body’s defense system and hormones that ease anxiety and heighten our experience of pleasure. Dr. Wendy Troxel at the University of Pittsburgh explains how research suggests that sharing a bedmay reduce inflammatory cytokines and increase the “love hormone” oxytocin, both of which also affect the transition between sleep and wakefulness. Oxytocin has also been shown to stimulate inhibitory interneurons that trigger the release of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter associated with sensations of calmness and that promotes sleep. Plus, when you and your partner coordinate your sleeping schedules, you create time and space for more intimacy—which is also shown to increase oxytocin levels!

Whether your relationship-focused resolution is intended to rekindle romance, foster time together as a family or pump up your professional network, all of these bonds can be strengthened with some attention on your sleep. A properly supportive mattress for couples is an important part of the solution to happily sharing a bed: make sure you have one that minimizes motion transfer so you aren’t disrupted if your partner comes to bed later, but that still allows for natural ease of movement so you aren’t struggling to roll over. Start with incremental changes to improve your sleeping habits, and notice how it affects the way you interact with others. Come back in a few weeks and share your experience: are you being more generous? Are you arguing less and socializing more? Do you feel more loved all around?

Stay tuned for the fourth installment on How to Conquer the 4 Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions; the finale will give you a new perspective on financial freedom. 

Photo attribution: modified image of Love Is... by F. C. Photography via Flickr Creative Commons 

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