Never go to sleep angry.
It’s a classic wedding speech fodder. And like most wedding well-wishes, it comes from a good place. But is this really the best approach to conflict in relationships? Is it so essential to wrap up an argument before bedtime?
One study suggests that a good night’s sleep can reinforce negative memories, making them more difficult to get over. Sleep is known to affect how your brain stores and processes new information. That’s why they recommend studying the night before a test rather than cramming in the morning – the information will sink in better if you can sleep on it.
The same goes for negative feelings and information. If you and your partner have an argument before you sleep, the freshly-formed bad memory is more likely to stick in your brain.
A researcher in the study gives advice that echoes the age-old adage: resolve the argument before going to bed and you’ll feel better in the morning.
Going to bed angry can also impact the quality of sleep. Often, when two partners are angry at each other, one will avoid escalating by going to sleep. Meanwhile, the second partner is restless, stewing in their anger while the other snores away peacefully. Neither party is happy, the problem is no closer to resolution, and one or both of them gets a poor-night’s sleep for their trouble.
But that’s not the only perspective on the issue.
You may think it’s better to forego sleep in order to resolve an argument, but that could do more harm than good. One of the primary purposes of sleep is to replenish your energy stores. The longer you stay awake, the less efficiently your brain can process your depleting energy. That impacts different parts of your brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for your judgement and self-control.
Anyone who’s stayed late at work knows it’s hard to perform at your best when you’re tired. Your judgement and reasoning skills are the same. If you prolong an argument long into the late hours, you risk saying things you don’t mean. A simple argument can devolve into something much worse – one that definitely won’t go away with a good night’s rest.
There are benefits to resolving a conflict when it comes up, but if you’re already tired, it’s usually best to postpone. Explain to your partner that now’s not a good time to talk about this, and you’d rather revisit it with a clear mind tomorrow.