Sleep Problems and Intimate Partner Violence

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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  • Hazel Q

    Hazel Q

    April 16th, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Isn’t it amazing just how little importance we have attributed to sleep and quality of aleep, yet look at the numerous ways that it can impact our lives!
    Now we see that in some cases it can even lead to spousal and partner abuse, sounds crazy, but then once you think about it I guess it could be related.
    Think about how irritable you are with one night of bad sleep, then think about the cumulative effect of night after night of poor sleep.
    It would certainly be hard to deal with many difficult situations, and if you are already in a relationship that is strained, the temptation to lash out at your partner could be veen more pronounced if you suffer with these sorts of sleep difficulties.

  • dixie


    April 17th, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    Is this any kind of excuse for harming another person? No, or at least it should not be!

  • bay


    April 18th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    No Dixie it is not an excuse, but I think that for those of us who have had problems with sleeping for an extended period of time you kind of realiuze just how realistic this could be.
    I know that I have unfairly bitten others’ heads off for no reason at all, and it is just that the lack of sleep quickly catches up with you and does crazy things to you.
    It is no excuse, but you do have to be able to see that this is a problem for you, and need to seek help for your issues.

  • kelly


    April 19th, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    sleep is important no doubt.any slip in quantity or quality can have effects.i have observed that wheni don’t get enough and good sleep I am frustrated and in a not so good mood in general.sleep really does make me feel a lot better.after all,it is a necessity,not a luxury that it has come to be!

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