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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Study Says Treat Sleep Problems as a Couples’ Phenomenon

When husbands suffer from ‪mental health problems their wives also exhibit ‪‎anxiety, ‪‎depression, and trouble sleeping, but the inverse relationship is not as strong, according to a study by Columbia Mailman School epidemiology professors Dr. Andrew Rundle, and Dr. Alfred Neugut. The findings published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine suggest that sleep problems might better be treated as a couples’ phenomenon than an individual one, particularly for women.

One explanation may be that women are more empathetic than men. Another explanation is that ‪married women are light sleepers who become anxious and depressed as they lose out on the slumber they need to feel their best.

[Photo: Dr. Alfred Neugut]

While sleep is often considered as the bellwether of health, few studies to date have examined the cross-partner effects of sleep on their well-being. Prior studies of couples and sleep have focused on couples in which one partner has sleep apnea, a condition that often disrupts the other partner’s sleep, and others have concentrated on the effects of short-term physical separations.

Using a longitudinal design the researchers examined changes over time by controlling for symptoms of anxiety and depression. The study used a large sample of middle-aged couples with good mental health in which at least one member was employed. Findings were not limited to couples facing a specific stressor, such as illness, that may affect sleep.


[Photo: Dr. Andrew Rundle]

Results were based on medical histories data of over 758 heterosexual couples (1516 individuals) obtained during their annual preventive medical examinations in 2011 and 2012. The data were provided by EHE International, a company that performs annual physical examinations free-of-charge to employees and their spouses as part of corporate wellness plans.