Being secure in your relationship doesn’t just improve your day-to-day life. It can also affect your well-being when you go to bed at night by boosting the quality of your sleep, suggests a new study.
On the flip side, say the study authors, people who don’t feel valued by their partners are more likely to experience interrupted sleep, and less likely to get restorative health benefits from the hours they spend in bed.
To analyze the connection between romantic relationships and sleep quality, researchers from Turkey and the United States surveyed 698 Americans, ages 35 to 86, who were all married or living with a partner. The surveys included several questions about a characteristic known as responsiveness: How much the participants felt their partners cared about them, understood their feelings, and appreciated them, for example.
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The researchers also looked at data about the participants’ sleep quality (gathered through questionnaires and activity trackers), as well as how many symptoms of anxiety or depression they’d experienced in the last week.
They found that people who perceived their partner as responsive had fewer self-reported sleep problems and were less likely to be depressed or anxious—two common causes of poor sleep, the researchers wrote. Lower levels of anxiety (but not partner responsiveness directly) were also associated with poorer sleep quality as measured by an activity tracker.
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This wasn’t surprising, say the study authors, since it’s known that restorative sleep requires feelings of safety, security, and protection. And, for humans, the strongest source of these feelings are our social partners—like the significant others we sleep next to every night.
"Having responsive partners who would be available to protect and comfort us should things go wrong is the most effective way for us humans to reduce anxiety, tension, and arousal," lead author Emre Selçuk, PhD, a developmental and social psychologist at Middle East Technical University in Turkey, said in a press release.
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Responsiveness does indeed seem to be a desirable trait in potential mates. Selçuk and his colleagues have previously linked partner responsiveness to other aspects of physical health and psychological wellbeing—and another recent study found that couples’ levels of responsiveness even affects their sex lives.
"People desire many qualities from partners (attractiveness, health, social status and material resources, etc.)," Selçuk told Real Simple. "But when it comes to the effects of relationships on our daily functioning, it seems that the key quality is whether your partner is a caring and understanding person."