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Science Proves You and Your Partner Should Never Go to Bed Angry

This age-old marriage advice is actually backed up by science.
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by Maggie Seaver
maggie seaver the knot wedding planning expert
Maggie Seaver
Wedding Planning Expert
  • Maggie Seaver is an Associate Digital Editor at RealSimple.com.
  • Maggie writes about life, career, health, and more.
  • Maggie was an editor at The Knot from 2015 to 2019.
Updated Apr 12, 2019

If you ask your parents, grandparents or any other successful long-term couple what their secret to a happy and lasting marriage is, they'll likely hit you with this piece of gold: Never go to bed angry. Most enduring couples really do swear by their refusal to turn out the lights before resolving an issue, whether it's a minor quarrel or a deeper argument. A recent study published in the online Nature Communications journal corroborates this foolproof marriage (and, let's face it, general life) advice, and it's due to the fact that sleeping has an effect on how and where our brains store recently learned information, images and memories.  

A team of researchers, led by Yunzhe Liu and Wanjun Lin at Beijing Normal University, observed 73 male students to see how sleep impacted how their brains processed negative memories. In the first portion of the study, the subjects were shown a set of neutral images each paired (or associated) with a different distressing image.

Later, the subjects were shown the neutral images again and instructed either to recall the negative image with which it had been associated or to suppress (or consciously avoid thinking about) the negative image. This second portion of the experiment was conducted twice, once only 30 minutes after the first session and once 24 hours after the first session—in other words, after a night's sleep.

Basically, the results showed that after a night of sleep, the subjects were less capable of suppressing or actively avoiding recollections of the negative images. This is because, as the study's introduction states, "[o]ver time, emotional memories often become more resistant to suppression most likely through a process of consolidation in which sleep is thought to play a vital role." In other words, as you sleep, memories and associations spread to and get stored in parts of your brain connected with long-term memory, making them more difficult to forget or brush aside.

Hopefully any marital disagreements you encounter are few and far between—and aren't distressing or traumatic—but this study definitely does prove that it's best to talk things out before saying good night. "In our opinion, yes, there is certain merit in this age-old advice. We would suggest to first resolve an argument before going to bed; don't sleep on your anger," Yunzhe Liu confirms. You heard the scientists, don't go to bed angry!

For more science-based marriage and relationship advice, download Lasting.  Lasting is a marriage-health app backed by The Knot dedicated to improving your (future) marriage or relationship. The app smartly gets to know your relationship and then builds a customized program just for you and your significant other. 

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