The Role of Gratitude in Sleep and Happiness: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor February 04, 2013
  • According to a growing body of research, gratitude is an important ingredient to happiness with yourself and in relationships. In addition, the amount of sleep you get might influence the amount of gratitude you feel towards the people in your life.

     

    How does poor sleep affect your relationship?

     

    A recent study examined more than 60 couples, ages 18 to 56, to see how poor sleep affects their relationship. For the first part of the study, the participants wrote down their sleep patterns and how their sleep affected their gratitude towards their partner.

     

    In the second part, the volunteers were videotaped while completing a problem-solving task with their partner. Researchers found that the partners who experienced sleep deprivation showed less appreciation for their significant other.

     

    In a separate part of the study, participants were asked to write down five things they were grateful for, while researchers examined the quality of their previous night’s sleep. The people with poor sleep expressed less gratitude after listing their five things compared to those who had good sleep.

     

    Researchers concluded that relationship problems that stem from feeling underappreciated could be due to sleep deprivation.

     

                [SLIDESHOW: 5 Health Issues that Arise from Sleep Deprivation]

     

    Can poor sleep cause a vicious circle of unhappiness in relationships?

     

    A 2009 study found similar data showing that poor sleep affects relationships. However, this study also found that not only did poor sleep negatively affect relationships for men, but the negative interactions during the day caused women to have poorer sleep, which also affected their partner’s sleep.

     

    The study looked at data from 29 heterosexual, co-sleeping couples without kids. Both partners completed sleep diaries for seven days, and recorded the quality of interactions with their partner six times a day. 

     

    Researchers found that poor sleep affects relationship functioning the following day, which leads to worse sleep that night. They also noted that the woman’s perception of the relationship was particularly important, as it impacts both partners’ sleep at night.  The researchers concluded that resolving disputes before bed and avoiding confrontation with their partner on days when they’ve had a bad night’s sleep can improve the quality of the relationship.

     

    Can being lonely cause restless sleep?

     

    Not only can poor sleep be problematic for people in relationships, but being lonely can cause you to have restless sleep. In a 2011 study, researchers found that the lonelier someone felt, the worse sleep they got. The study looked at 95 adults in rural South Dakota and compared the degree of loneliness they reported with the measurements of their sleep cycles.

     

    None of the participants were socially isolated, but they still reported loneliness in varying degrees. Researchers found that higher loneliness scores were linked to higher levels of fragmented sleep. They noted that the total amount of sleep didn’t change, but the number of times they woke up during the night did.

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                [SLIDESHOW: 5 Ways Sleep and Weight Are Connected]

     

    Can expressing gratitude improve relationships?

     

    Doing little things for your partner every day can improve the relationship, according to a 2010 study. Much like research that found sleep deprivation puts a strain on relationships due to a lack of gratitude, this study concludes that everyday gratitude acts as a relationship booster shot.

     

    Researchers studied over 65 couples who were in stable, satisfying and committed relationships. They tracked the day-to-day fluctuations in satisfaction and feelings of connection between the partners. The ups and downs of the day were largely attributed to feelings of gratitude displayed by a partner. The effects of the gratitude were noticeable even into the next day. Researchers say their findings suggest gratitude is an important relationship maintenance mechanism, although feeling indebted does not produce the same outcome. Indebtedness implies an obligation to repay kind gestures, which negates the positive effects of gratitude.

     

    Can feeling grateful improve your mood?

     

    Feeling grateful is the best way to achieve personal happiness, according to a 2009 study; however, men are much less likely to feel and express it than women. Researchers interviewed college-aged students and older adults about how they felt when they received a gift recently.

     

    They found that women reported less burden and obligation when receiving a gift and expressed greater levels of gratitude. Men experienced more burden and obligation and less gratitude, and older men reported great negative emotion towards gifts given by other men.

     

    The lead researcher said he believes the way we are socialized as children affect how we express emotion as adults, and that because men are taught to be stoic and conceal emotion, it may be limiting their happiness and well-being. He goes on to say that the three main elements for creating happiness are meaningful relationships, gratitude and a “living in the moment” attitude.

     

    Are grateful teens more likely to have fewer behavioral problems?

     

    Having a grateful teen is not only good for the family, but it improves the happiness and quality of life of your teen, as they are more likely to steer clear of drugs and alcohol and have fewer  behavioral problems.

     

    According to a study published in August 2012, researchers asked 700 students between the ages of 10 and 14 to complete questionnaires, with a follow-up questionnaire four years later. They compared the results of the least grateful 20 percent of students with the most grateful 20 percent and found the latter seemed to benefit from their more gracious attitudes.. They experienced a 15 percent bump in perceived meaning in their life, were 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall, 17 percent happier and more hopeful about their lives, and had 13 and 15 percent drops in negative emotions and depressive symptoms, respectively.

     

    Researchers noted that teens who didn’t start out with much gratitude, but gained it over the four years, still benefited. They not only experienced similar improvements in mood and well-being, but showed reductions in problem behavior, such as alcohol and drug use.

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    Sources:

     

    n.p. (2013, January 23). "Poor Sleep Can Make Couples Take Each Other For Granted." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/255236.php

     

    American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2011, November 2). How lonely you are may impact how well you sleep, research shows. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111101095302.htm

     

    American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2009, June 15). Poor Sleep Is Associated With Lower Relationship Satisfaction In Both Women And Men. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090610091337.htm

     

    Wiley-Blackwell (2010, May 24). It's the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100524072912.htm

     

    George Mason University (2009, March 19). Key To Happiness Is Gratitude, And Men May Be Locked Out. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090313145939.htm

     

    American Psychological Association (APA) (2012, August 5). Growing up grateful gives teens multiple mental health benefits. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120806093938.htm