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Sleep Problems Can Lead to Intimate Partner Violence Over Time

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On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. To better understand how to prevent violence, scientists supported by the Child Development and Behavior Branch looked at the relationship between sleep deprivation and intimate partner violence.

Previous research suggested that sleep deprivation and partner violence were related.  However, it has been difficult to determine whether problems in the relationship caused sleep deprivation, or whether sleep deprivation caused problems in the relationship. 

Researchers assessed sleep problems and both physical and psychological abuse over the course of a year in 215 couples living together with at least one school-aged child. The results indicated that sleep problems could lead to psychological abuse over time, but not necessarily to physical abuse. Both men and women who reported sleep problems early in the year were more likely to commit increased psychological abuse later on. Although men’s sleep problems did tend to precede physical abuse, this relationship was weak and not statistically significant once other important factors (such as income) were taken into account.  The results also showed that intimate partner violence, physical or psychological, did not lead to later increases in sleep problems for either men or women. 

The results suggest that interventions to improve sleep patterns may be a useful adjunct to other methods used to help couples at risk of intimate partner violence (PMID: 22468689). 

Last Reviewed: 05/01/2014
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