A new psychology study out of UC Berkeley has found that sleep deprivation, something college students are all too familiar with, can explain problems with expressing appreciation in romantic relationships.
Head researcher Amie Gordon, a sixth-year graduate student pursuing a doctorate in social-personality psychology, conducted three studies to examine the correlation between sleep and gratitude in relationships and found that sleep deprivation is associated with reduced feelings of gratitude toward romantic partners.
According to Gordon, people suffering from a lack of sleep tend to be more self-centered, often leading them to prioritize their own needs over those of their partners. These sleep-deprived individuals feel too tired to express gratitude, leaving their partners feeling unappreciated.
In the three studies, Gordon and her team asked participants how well they slept and how appreciative they felt. The participants were also asked to keep daily diaries over the duration of two weeks to document their sleep patterns and to evaluate how much they appreciated their significant others.
Gordon found that when both partners had good sleeping habits, each felt more grateful toward the other and in turn felt more appreciated by the other in comparison to couples with one or both partners had poor sleeping habits.
“A major cause of breakups is that one or both partners feel like they are being taken for granted,” Gordon said. “Studies have shown that people who appreciate and feel appreciated by their partners are more committed to their relationships and are less likely to break up.”
Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, explained that gratitude plays an important role not only in romantic relationships but in all types of social interactions because gratitude is an external process that involves focusing one’s attention outward.
According to Simon-Thomas, the ability to focus on things outside of oneself, such as another person’s concerns and expectations, is essential to gratitude, and this ability allows all types of relationships to thrive.
“A lot of people pride themselves on how they can get by on lack of sleep, but they don’t realize the social consequences that poor sleep can have,” Gordon said.
The positive effects of gratitude are not just limited to successful relationships. The expression of gratitude has also been linked to positive mental and physical benefits, which can include fewer headaches and stomachaches, as well as better cardiovascular health.
Gordon said that the results of the study have implications for relationships and parenthood, as well as furthering the understanding of how biological processes can affect emotions. According to Gordon, satisfaction in relationships deteriorates with couples who have newborns because these couples are often sleep-deprived.
She also noted that the link between the biological process of sleep and the ability to express gratitude could be another point of research for how other bodily mechanisms, such as feeling hunger or being cold, can affect emotions.