difficulties — widely linked to depression, suicide risk and cardiovascular disease — might also influence relationship quality,
which, in turn, could foster more health problems down the road.
“After a bad night’s sleep, you often feel irritable and more
easily frustrated the next day, and you’re likely to take those
negative feelings out on your partner,” she says. “Relationship
conflict may then lead to further sleep problems the next
night. It’s this dynamic that may have long-term negative
consequences for the relationship and for the overall health and
well-being of both members of the couple.”
To find out more, Troxel and her team, which also includes
University of Pittsburgh researchers Anne Germain, PhD, Karen
A. Matthews, PhD, and Daniel J. Buysse, MD, are conducting
a four-year study funded by the National Heart, Lung and
Blood Institute that is the first to examine sleep and nocturnal
physiology in service members and their spouses.
Now in the study’s second year, the team has collected data
on 31 couples, with plans to study about 70 couples in all. They
are following each couple for 10 days as they go about their
daily lives, gathering data on relationship quality, moods, and
physiological indicators including depth of sleep, blood pressure
and markers of inflammation.
So far, the researchers have found patterns both troubling
and promising. “Some findings suggest risk for negative health
outcomes, and others might indicate really healthy adjustment,
even in the aftermath of an extended deployment,” Troxel says.
Overall, these couples reported little depression, were
well adjusted as couples, and reported extremely high sleep
efficiency — that is, not waking up during sleep.
On the risk side, couples who reported more troubled
unions tended to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods of
time than happier couples. Meanwhile, 37 percent of the sample
had clinically significant self-reported sleep disturbances, with
male service members largely accounting for this problem.
Average sleep length was 6. 6 hours — too short for optimal
health, but in line with the rest of the population.
In addition, the service members as well as their spouses
reported moderate levels of lifetime PTSD symptoms in general,
with those reporting more symptoms having more fragmented
and less restful sleep, Troxel says.
“Especially as the United States continues to draw down
troops, there has never been a more important time to study
how military and veteran couples adjust in the post-deployment
period, and to identify potential opportunities for intervention
in those who appear to be at risk for poor adjustment and long-term health consequences,” she says. n
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N. Y.
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