Q: Will going to bed angry disrupt my sleep?

Many couples have gone to bed angry with each other at least once. And even though letting your feelings fester at night has benefits, bringing your grievances into the bedroom can destroy a good night's sleep. 

Your body needs rest at the end of your waking hours. Catnapping or "playing catch up" by going to bed earlier the next day won't accomplish the functions of sleep. For example, slumber is your body's way of repairing damaged cells and tissue and cleansing them of waste products such as cholesterol.

Getting those "forty winks" also fortifies the heart and immune system and regulates your hormones and blood pressure. And anyone who has tossed and turned and fumed all night knows that concentration and memory are not in tiptop condition the next day. So "pulling an all-nighter" to finish a paper or presentation is not a good strategy.

Yet, even though scientists have observed these advantages of sleep, they still don't know how it accomplishes them.  They do know, however, that sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations, mental impairment and death.

Still want to go bed irate and irritated?

But wait. Go back to the beginning of this article. Doesn't it say that there might be benefits to going bed angry?  The gains are few, but turning out the lights while you are still cross does have an upside. Going to bed mad can make you:

  • Hold your tongue. If you tend to say hurtful things that you might regret and can't easily take back the next day, then going to bed hot-headed but quiet might be useful.Usually, feelings cool in a few hours.
  • Sort your feelings. Fuming in silence can often give you time to review the incident and see it more clearly.
  • Gather strength and courage. Retaining anger may motivate someone who normally doesn't speak up to broach the subject the next day.

Overall, the biological costs of allowing anger to jeopardize sleep outweigh the benefits. The relationship costs are also high. Rage doesn't mix with love. And even if "make up sex" is the best ever, it still leaves a trail of bad memories that can chip away at trust and closeness.

When you're angry, though, you probably aren't thinking of all these pros and cons. You're so steaming mad that it doesn't seem you have any choice but to ruminate, turn your back to your partner or pick up your pillow and sleep in the other room.

The anger grips you and disrupts your sleep because you went to bed without resolving the problem. Unfinished tasks have tremendous emotional and cognitive authority. This power is due to what is called the Zeigarnik Effect where incompletion and lack of resolution gnaw away at you. Your mind replays the incident, and, as you try to recall every nasty word and tone in the exact order, you risk becoming angrier and more detrimental to the relationship. Even worse, you begin to feel abandoned, which is one of the earliest and most frightening fears.

Obviously, the best approach to getting a good night's sleep when you are upset is to resolve the problem before going to bed. But what if you can't come up with a solution that quickly-or that civilly? Here is a plan that provides options for closure so you can get some sleep and signal your partner that you are still a team. 

1. Touch. It's okay to disagree and feel disappointed and disgruntled. It's unlikely, however, that this disagreement or hurt is going to end your relationship.  So, don't go to bed without affirming that you are still a couple. The lightest touch of the hand, face, shoulder or even an ankle says, "I love you, we will work through it." Touch is as calming for babies as it is for adults.

2. Apologize. Yes, you. Probably you both contributed to the heat of the argument. And even if you didn't alter your tone or say the wrong thing, you can still say something like "I'm sorry we got carried away. We'll work it out tomorrow."

3. Say "I love you." Say this especially if your nightly routine includes saying it. These words reduce the feelings abandonment.

4. Leave a note. If you aren't brave and humble enough to apologize, then write a brief note and leave it where your partner will see it before going to bed. The note could say, "Sorry we quarreled. We'll work it out. I love you."

5. Light scented candles in the bedroom. Aromas, especially cinnamon, can have a calming effect. They also set a mood of warmth and acceptance.

6Take a breath. Take a time out, walk away calmly and announce that you need a "breather" so that your actions are not interpreted as dismissal. Go to the kitchen or family room. Often, changing locations can prompt the brain to make different neural connections. Think of the times you came up with a good idea while driving or taking a shower. Make sure to return to the bedroom. 

7. Begin preliminary plans for resolution. Instead of stewing and rehashing the argument, move forward and think of solutions.  You can accomplish this task in several ways. The best way is to offer a solution is to tell your partner and brainstorm some potential choices. You can also think or write down a few beginning ideas. Finally, one of the most powerful techniques is to think about the problem from your partner's viewpoint and see what solutions that approach yields.

Good luck and good night!