We’ve stuffed our faces in a pillow and teared up after a screaming match. There may have been some fist-pounding and leg kicking, too. But is it actually detrimental to personal health or relationships to go to bed in a tizzy? The answer is yes — sometimes. If the sun goes down and a fight is left open-ended, it could lead to a less restful sleep. But in other situations it may actually be best to sleep on it.
Bedtime Blues — The Need-to-Know
Suppressing anger may poorly affect the quality of those Zzs. Post-fight, hanging on to feelings of anger and hostility is related to poorer sleep qualityNegative affect and anger rumination as mediators between forgiveness and sleep quality. Stoia-Caraballo, R., Rye M.S., Pan, W. et al. Department of Psychology, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2008 Dec;31(6):478-88. Epub 2008 Sep 12..And after an extremely distressing event, it might be best to stay awake for a whileProcessing of emotional reactivity and emotional memory over sleep. Baran, B., Pace-Schott, E.F., Ericson, C., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts. Journal of Neuropsychology, 2012 Jan 18;32(3): 1035-42.. Dr. Rebecca Spencer and a team of psychologists showed participants disturbing photos (like scenes from a war-torn country) and found that sleep made the participants’ negative emotional memories strongerHippocampal replay in the awake state: a potential physiological substrate of memory consolidation and retrieval. Carr, Margaret F., Jadhav, Shantanu P., Frank, Loren M. Nature Neuroscience, 2011 February; 14(2): 147-153.. Spencer gave one possible explanation for the results: When we sleep, our brains sort through information and decide which memories are important. The important ones move from the hippocampus (a temporary storage place) to the cortex, a more permanent location. But the same study also suggests that going to sleep after a mildly distressing event (like arguing with a parent) can actually be helpful. Sleeping allows us to wake up with a clean slate, Spencer says. So in the morning, we can discuss the situation more calmly and rationallyCortico-hippocampal interaction during up-down states and memory consolidation. Mehta, M.R. Nature Neuroscience, 2007 Jan;10(1):13-5.. Confused? The consequences of going to bed angry may depend on the person. A small study of people in cohabiting relationships found that all participants experienced sleep disruption after conflict with their significant other. But the most sleep disruption occurred in people, especially ladies, who were highly anxious in their relationship. The lowest degree of sleep disruption, however, was found in people who strongly avoided emotional attachment.
Don’t Get Mad, Get Zzzs — The Answer/Debate
The good news is we can use the way our brain stores information to our advantage. If we think of something that makes us feel good, like getting a thumbs-up for a job well done at work, we will likely feel just as strongly about it in the morning. And when there’s a rift between friends or romantic partners, sometimes forgiveness may be the solution that makes for a more peaceful slumberNegative affect and anger rumination as mediators between forgiveness and sleep quality. Stoia-Caraballo, R., Rye M.S., Pan, W. et al. Department of Psychology, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2008 Dec;31(6):478-88. Epub 2008 Sep 12.. When conflict arises between romantic partners, some experts suggest kissing before bed — no matter what the status of the relationship at that moment. But according to Greatist Expert Ian Kerner, “If you’re fighting with your partner because he cheated or was flirting it up with an ex, you’re not going to feel like kissing that person.” Instead, Kerner suggests respecting yourself and honoring the emotional state. If anger lingers when it’s time for lights out and you’d rather forgo a kiss (or more), try talking about what’s good in a relationship, romantic or not, instead of rehashing issues. Even just thinking about the good aspects of a relationship, remember why you’re grateful to the person you’re not so thrilled with at the moment. Moral of the sleepy quandary? After a tussle, be aware there may be deeper things that can’t be resolved before bed.