Lost sleep, marital stress boost inflammation

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A lack of sleep might leave you cranky and itching for a spat with your partner. If that happens too often, it’s not only bad for the relationship, it’s bad for your health.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research learned couples who argue after getting little sleep are more at risk for stress-related inflammation.

“This type of inflammation is associated with higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic illnesses,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

Sleep problems are also linked to inflammation and many of the same diseases. So the researchers set out to learn how sleep related to inflammation among married couples, and whether one partner’s sleep affected the other’s inflammation levels.

“We brought 43 couples into the lab and had them discuss a topic that sparks conflict for them. They also provided blood samples before and after the discussion,” says Stephanie Wilson, PhD.

The study results show people who slept less in the past few nights had a higher inflammatory response to the conflict. For every hour of sleep lost, levels of two known inflammatory markers, IL-6 and TNF-alpha, rose 6 percent. Couples who used unhealthy tactics in arguing had a higher response – about a 10 percent increase with each hour of lost sleep.

“Any increase isn’t good, but a modest, persistent increase over time can become a problem,” Wilson says. “It’s concerning because both a lack of sleep and marital conflict are common in daily life.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports more than a third of Americans get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

The good news is couples who resolved their conflicts calmly, or had at least one well-rested partner, saw little to no increase in inflammation.

“We would tell people that it’s important to find healthy ways to resolve conflict – and get some sleep,” Kiecolt-Glaser says.

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