I'm Pretty Sure My Loved Ones Are Going To Murder Me If I Don't Start Getting More Sleep

According to a study from UC Berkeley, sleep deprivation can cause "stress" in relationships because it makes us unappreciative of our partners. Uh, DUH. When I don't sleep, I turn into a bridge troll who appears to be trying to to make a rage-nest out of her own gums.
Publish date:
January 24, 2013
healthy, science, sleep deprivation, I never sleep

According to a study from UC Berkeley, sleep deprivation can cause "stress" in relationships because it makes us "unappreciative" of our partners. Uh, duh.

As far as I'm concerned, this is about as groundbreaking as a study showing that people who have to interact with other humans after 5 hours of being kicked in the shins by toddlers might be a little less patient than the rest of us. When I don't get enough sleep (which is often), I turn from a relatively cheerful, relaxed person to a bridge troll who appears to be trying to make a rage-nest out of her own gums.

Through much trial and error (and one grim finals season my senior year of college), I've learned the futility of having a serious discussion when I'm sleep-deprived. Much like alcohol reputably intensifies one's existing moods, lack of sleep seems to kick up my adrenaline response time, turning everything from a laid-back discussion to a fight-or-flight situation.

"Hey, can you do the dishes?" (in sleep-troll speak) translates into, "Wow, you shitty friend, there you go again unable to perform a simple adult task."

"Nah, I don't feel like going to Wegman's with you," somehow morphs into "I want to set your pants on fire and push you into a snowbank."

I once got in a knock-down, drag-out, hands-trembling fight with my best friend after both of us had spent sleepless nights in a youth hostel in New York. Our disagreement? Chipotle versus Red Robin. I mean, really.

On the rare occasions when I don't spin myself a cocoon out of spit and loathing, I swing to the other, equally obnoxious extreme and become so incredibly weird that I have to physically remove myself from others' presences.

The other night, for example, I ran into my friend's older sister's room after midnight and pranced by her bed pretending to be a gremlin while she puttered around trying to set the alarm. This might sound charming and quirky (sort of), but it's actually a little scary. I can hear stupid shit coming out of my mouth -- when I'm really tired, I start singing songs to all the pets in the house in the style of Miss Hannigan from "Annie" -- but my frontal cortex can only slide around and sputter "Fffcckkkkkttttt" like a washing machine full of extension cords.

And again, much like being drunk, it's only fun if everyone else is equally affected. Otherwise, it's just annoying.

By contrast, when I do get adequate sleep, it feels like a bit of a miracle. I can actually have civil disagreements with co-workers without taking them personally! I can get through the day without drinking five cups of black coffee and praying for a stranger to punch me in the face! And every time that happens, I resolve that this is the week I'm going to get my life straightened out enough to behave like a rational person the majority of the time.

But this week, just like last one and the one before, I got distracted with work and writing and dance class and watching old Blackhawks videos and feeding myself and before I knew it, I was stress-barfing (or possibly burrito-barfing) on a street corner after a few nights of going to bed after 1 in the morning. It's a vicious cycle, and I can feel my loved ones starting to pull away from me rather than deal with my inevitable mood swings and random drop-offs during makeouts.

Unfortunately, I tend to regard my sleep schedule as existing in a personal vacuum. Though I hate that too-tired feeling, like my skin is stretched paper-thin and I have double the normal number of joints, I've spent my entire life learning how to swallow discomfort and push through it. My problems arise, though, when I actually have to interact with others.

See, just like when I'm dieting, being tired reduces all of my other priorities to white noise. It's actively painful to focus on anything else, including others' feelings, when your body's basic needs aren't being met. I've been known to actually put my hand up while people are talking to me, lean sideways, and just pass out without any further explanation, as if being fatigued somehow absolves me from the necessary niceties of conversational etiquette. Sleep deprivation makes it impossible for me to fully engage with the world around me -- so, frankly, it's a little bit selfish.

No wonder the couples in that Berkeley study had difficulty solving problems when they were tired; the very idea of anything cognitively complex coming between me and my crappy IKEA duvet makes me almost furious. Conversely, being the person dealing with someone sleep-deprived isn't any easier -- on the rare occasions when I am more awake and happy than my friends, it feels like I'm shouting at them through a layer of blanket when I try to talk to them. Not exactly the key to a happy, fulfilling relationship, platonic or otherwise.

I think that much like the trope of the overworked employee, there's a certain masochistic glamour associated with being sleep-deprived. As I've written before, it suggests that one's life is just too exciting to spend even a minute of it curled in peaceful, gray-lit solitude. "I'm soooo tiiiired" has become my peers' go-to small-talk phrase, and it's usually met with an understanding nod. If we're all tired, we're all working hard, and if we're all working hard, that's some justification for feeling vaguely like our teeth are going to rattle out of our heads.

Which is all fine and good, I guess, but the idea that I can float along squeakily humming Joanna Newsom lyrics and hissing at random intervals without it affecting anyone else is pure fantasy. And that's the benign scenario; usually, a sleepless night leads to the complete dissolution of my brain-mouth filter, meaning that at some point I'm going to snap out an impulsive insult that I normally would have swallowed or, more likely, never have even thought at all.

When I don't sleep, I'm not just making my life harder for myself -- I'm making it harder for people who have to come into contact with me, people I care about. And I don't like doing that to them.

I know I say this every time. But maybe that'll be enough, one of these days, to make me actually buckle down and get my eight hours.

Kate is late-night tweeting: @katchatters.