Lack of sleep makes wives cranky with their spouses. Really.

Here’s some breaking news: A study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Sleep Medicine Institute has found that wives can be grumpy with their husbands if they don’t get a good night’s sleep.

Perhaps future research can determine whether husbands tend to hog the covers, whether the other side of the pillow is in fact cooler or whether the setting sun has some effect on darkness.

The researchers likely could have made the same discovery by simply talking to anyone who has ever been married. But they took a more scientific approach. They equipped 32 couples (average age, early 30s) with sensors that tracked their sleep patterns for 10 nights. And each day, they surveyed the husbands and wives to see how they were getting along.

The study found that women — but not men — tended to be more irritable and less positive with their spouses after a bad night’s sleep. It’s no secret that sleep-deprived men can have foul moods of their own. Perhaps the husbands in this study simply did a good job of hiding their feelings from their wives. Or from the researchers.


Still, there may be some reason why wives are more likely to take their sleep troubles out on their husbands, says Michael Zande, a psychologist in Raleigh, N.C., who specializes in both marriage counseling and insomnia treatment. As he explains, insomnia puts a person’s emotions on edge, and women tend to have “an especially strong emotional component” in their interactions with their husbands. On an average morning, men are thinking about logistics, and women are thinking about something called “feelings.” And feelings, research shows, can make a husband really wish he hadn’t said anything about the state of the recycling bin.

Beyond the not-so-surprising findings, Zande says the study points to an important issue: A lot a marriages would be happier and smoother if the couple could really learn to sleep together (as opposed to “sleep” together, which is a whole different aspect of marital happiness). During marriage counseling, he always asks about sleep quality. And he gives couples the same advice he gives to anyone else who’s struggling with sleep: Don’t read or work in bed, don’t nap during the day, stick to quiet activities an hour or so before sleep, and keep the room cool, dark, and quiet.

And when a husband thinks his wife may be getting up on the cranky side of the bed, he might try doing what he can to help her sleep better. “If this study gets out, there could be a rush on high-quality mattresses,” Zande says.