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MCLEOD: Five ways sleep deprivation ruins your relationships

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

Think you’re doing your employer or family a favor by giving up on sleep to get more done?

You’re wrong.

We may tell ourselves that we’re sacrificing sleep for the benefit of others, but the data says otherwise. Studies show that when you’re exhausted you’re less empathetic, quicker to anger, less emotionally engaged, and — there really is no dressing this one up — more self-absorbed.

Think about it, how focused can you be if you’re dead-dog tired?

Most of us recognize that we’re not as proficient with complex tasks when we’re exhausted. Yet we often underestimate the effect that sleep deprivation has on our relationships, professional and personal.

Here are five fatal relationship mistakes you tend to make when you’re exhausted:

1. You’re reactive. Your spouse or boss says, “We’ve got a problem.” In a well-rested state you’d ask for more information. In a sleep-deprived state, you’re more likely to get defensive, and assume it’s about you. Your defensive reaction ignites the conversation, and what might have been a three-minute interaction to clarify an issue becomes a full-blown fight.

2. You interpret requests as demands. Something as benign as “Can you prepare this report?” feels like a surly command. Viewed through the lens of exhaustion, your boss or spouse becomes a whip-wielding tyrant lording over a crew of galley slaves shouting “Row harder!” as you, the poor hapless victim, are forced to hunch over your splintery wooden oar for another grueling 16 hours with no land in sight.

3. Your listening skills decline. In a sleep-deprived state your brain misses the nuances of conversation. When your child says, “My day was OK,” you miss the sad tone at the end of the sentence. Over time, this leaves other people feeling ignored and unloved. Your conversations become transactional instead of relational. You get things done, but instead of getting closer to people, they drift farther away.

4. Your body language communicates disinterest. Dragging yourself into work looking like you don’t want to be there or answering every family request with a heavy sigh of exhaustion gives people the impression that you don’t care. Your body communicates your feelings whether you like it or not. A sleep-deprived body practically shouts, “I don’t want to be here!”

5. You lose perspective. When you’re exhausted everything is evaluated through the filter of what’s going to take less effort. Your spouse tells you their favorite aunt died, and your first thought is “Oh my god, that funeral is a six-hour drive away.” Instead of thinking about what the other person is feeling, all you can think about is how this situation is going to affect you.

It’s ironic. You give up sleep in an effort to please people and get more done. But you wind up eroding the relationships that are the very foundation of a successful life.

One day of being sleep-deprived won’t ruin your relationships. But if you live most of your life exhausted, people will assume that your cranky sleep-deprived self is your real personality.

Negativity breeds negativity, people start responding to you the way you respond to them, and before you know it, you’re a cranky tired person leading a cranky tired life.

So quit bragging about how you can function on five hours of sleep. The world will like you a lot better if you get eight.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of “The Triangle of Truth,” a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for leaders. She is a keynote speaker, business strategist, columnist and the President of McLeod & More Inc. specializing in sales force and leadership development.