Sleep deprivation can lead to a host of negative mental health problems. People who do not get enough sleep may struggle to effectively regulate their emotions. They may be overly sensitive to stressors and react in impulsive and aggressive ways. Similarly, psychological stress can impair a person’s ability to sleep. People who suffer with anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and depression often have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. All of these relationships have been established through clinical research. But less is known about the relationship between impaired sleep and intimate partner violence (IPV).
IPV is a growing concern among mental health professionals. Understanding how it affects sleep and how lack of sleep affects the rates of IPV could help clinicians who work with victims and perpetrators of IPV. Amy J. Rauer of the Human Development and Family Studies department at Auburn University recently conducted a study to better identify the relationship between IPV and sleep. Rauer enlisted 215 couples and evaluated their sleep patterns and IPV over the course of 1 year. She found that all of the participants engaged in more psychological IPV as a direct result of increased sleep problems. Because psychological IPV has been shown to be as harmful if not more harmful than physical IPV, this finding is of great concern.
When she examined the differences between the men and women, Rauer discovered that the quality of sleep for men was impacted by their partner’s previous behavior and sleep quality, whereas that was not the case for women. Additionally, Rauer found that previous victimization directly predicted future perpetration in both men and women. This result supports the idea that IPV is likely to escalate in couples who struggle with this issue. Of importance was also the discovery that men with posttraumatic stress were extremely vulnerable to sleep problems. This increased their emotional deregulation and increased their rates of aggression as exhibited in physical and psychological IPV. Rauer added, “These findings highlight the importance of adequate sleep for interpersonal processes and have clear implications for those wishing to understand the etiology and consequences of the perpetration of IPV.”
Rauer, A. J., El-Sheikh, M. (2012). Reciprocal pathways between intimate partner violence and sleep in men and women. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027828
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