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The Voice of the Black Community


Is poor sleep ruining your marriage?
Three tips for survival and recovery
Published Wednesday, October 9, 2019
by Jason Wooden and Kristal McKinney, Special To The Tribune

If poor sleep has put a strain on your marriage, you’re not alone.  Every morning, 1 in 3 Americans wake up sleep deprived.

A health crisis can be tough on a marriage as it can add a ton of stress.  In fact, research has shown a link between decline in health and marriage quality.

Did you know that 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease? That means every year potentially millions of couples are dealing with the fallout from a chronic illness.

Chronic insomnia is a health issue that’s often overlooked because so many people take sleep for granted. However, it can have serious mental, emotional, and health consequences. When chronically sleep deprived, you have a harder time participating in normal activities, including household chores and social outings.  Physical intimacy can suffer due to low energy and suppressed sex hormones. You’re also more at risk for depression and anxiety, which means more emotional turmoil that can take a toll on the strongest of relationships. 

In studies, poor sleep has been linked to more marital conflict. It’s even more serious when you consider the millions of adults living with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder in which the muscles in the throat relax too much which disrupts breathing and wrecks your sleep.

Did you know that snoring, a common symptom of sleep apnea, has been estimated to be the third most common cause of divorce in the United States and Great Britain? If you’re African American, all of this is especially concerning given the black-white sleep gap in which 45 percent of blacks get less than seven hours of sleep compared to 33 percent of whites and Hispanics.

Altogether, it may seem like a lot that can keep you from having a functioning and healthy relationship, but don’t give up. As tough as things are, there’s actually quite a bit you can do to improve your sleep and get your marriage back on track.

  1. Get way more serious about your sleep. We’ve all heard the flight attendant before takeoff say in the event of an emergency to put your own mask on first before helping someone else. That’s no less true for this situation; if you don’t improve your sleep, that will make it tougher to work on the marriage. Also, be sure to see a sleep specialist. They can check for underlying sleep disorders and other health issues linked to poor sleep.
  2. Urgent care for the marriage. A chronic illness is often a chance to build a stronger marriage; you either grow together or grow apart.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Share accurate information: make sure you and your spouse have a clear understanding of what’s going on.
  • Improve your communication: keep talking and honestly sharing with each other where you’re at and what you need.
  • Work together on a recovery plan: figure out what each of you can do to support the insomnia recovery and improve the relationship.
  • Spousal self-care: the well-being of a spouse is often overlooked. Make sure they’re getting adequate sleep, taking care of their health, and finding time do things they enjoy.
  • Set aside time: Find time to be together, even if it’s just dinner or a movie.
  • Counseling: With feelings running high, it may be hard to sort through things, especially if you’re sleep deprived. Tough times can also bring to the surface issues that may have been on a low simmer.

3.  Live one day at a time. As you’re getting your sleep apnea under control and working together on your relationship, you’re going to have some ups and downs. To keep from getting overwhelmed, be realistic about your situation: some things will be in your control and some won’t.

If you get over ambitious about what you can do each day, it’s likely to cause more stress, anxiety, resentment, and leave you feeling down. Also, keep in mind there’s a ping-pong effect between sleep and mental health.  Stress, anxiety, and depression can cause insomnia. Likewise, insomnia can worsen anxiety and depression. If both of you are sleep deprived and strung out emotionally, you’ve really got a problem.

Meet your marriage where it is and figure out how to make things work within your current limits. Perhaps you need to temporally change a work schedule, adjust your social commitments or restructure how you spend time together.  It may mean that for a while you spend time together in the evening and then sleep in separate rooms.

Regardless, show compassion and give each other permission to do what’s needed during the recovery process.


Jason Wooden, a founder of BetterSleepSimplified.com, has worked for over 20 years in biomedical research and health care technology R&D.

Kristal McKinney is a psychotherapist in private practice with over 14 years specializing in the behavioral health of adults, couples, and families.



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