We return to our Science in the Bible series with a look at Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” This is a well known verse and seems based in common sense because it is difficult to fall asleep when angry, and the sleep you get is often less restful. Science, however, has just proven this to be much more than common sense.
Earlier this year neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst conducted a polysomnography study (sleep study using electrodes and computers) with interesting results.
Here is the experiment conducted. The study included 106 adults between 18-30 years old, 68 females and 38 males. The two phase test involved showing participants pictures on a computer screen and asking them to rate each one as sad or happy, and their own response of calm or excited on a scale of 1 to 9. By using the two rating per picture system, each participant’s emotional value score was unique for the pictures. Twelve hours later the participants were shown a mix of the pictures they had already seen, and new pictures. They rated each picture on the two scales again, and indicated if they had seen the picture in the previous test. Forty one of the participants were tested early in the morning, then later that same day, and forty one were tested in the evening and then the following morning after a full nights rest. The remaining twenty four were tested with only a 45 minute break as a control group.
The researchers found that sleep had significant effects on participants recognition memories and feelings. Contrary to the popular opinion that sleep will soften a person’s negative emotions, the study found that sleep actually preserved the memories and emotional responses to the images. Those that stayed awake between viewings did not recall the images as well, and they registered a less negative response to the images, while those that slept retained the memories and negative responses to the images.
The bottom line:
Go to bed angry at your wife, wake up in the morning STILL angry at your wife. Sleeping on the issue does not help to lower any negative feelings.
If you can’t go to bed angry, and staying up until oh-dark-thirty yelling at each other isn’t going to accomplish anything, what can you do? Here are some ideas to help end the fight on civil terms so you can go to bed in a better emotional state of mind.
The Pause Button
The highly decorated sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” has an interesting way of dealing with the long arguments between one of the long standing couples on the show. They hit the proverbial pause button. While in pause land they sleep, eat lunch, or do whatever else needs to be done, while being perfectly nice to one another until such time as the fight can resume at a more convenient time. This is obviously done for comedic effect, but it is not a bad idea on principle. Instead of arguing all night or going to bed angry, hit the pause button, go to the kitchen and share a late night snack and go to bed on civil terms. The fight can be resumed with cooler heads after a good non-angry nights sleep when emotions and lower and exhaustion isn’t threatening to make you lose your grip on the mean things you want to say but know you shouldn’t.
Another option is to refocus your brain before going to bed angry, after the fight is over leave your spouse alone, but don’t go immediately to sleep. Instead of sleeping angry, go watch 30 minutes of something on netflix or read a book. This will provide your mind with 30 minutes of not fighting to store in it’s ‘preserve-this-feeling-for-tomorrow’ buffer.
The Change Rule
People tend to stick to routines and things that you have done before will be easier to do again. If your fight is in a rut and you keep going in circles, change one thing to break the cycle and force your brain to start listening and engaging instead of just repeating. This is easiest to do by declaring a new fight rule like ‘you can only talk about relatives when lying on the floor’ or ‘you can only discuss bad habits while wearing an oven mitt’ or ‘we only discuss financial issues in a British accent.’ By changing one thing about the fight you add a little bit of funny to ease tensions, and force yourself to engage instead of repeat. This can help you come to an accord or find a good place to stop the fight in a lighter frame of mind, which can prevent you from going to bed angry.
The Own Your Part Rule
One effective method for reducing conflict in a fight is by owning up to your mistakes and apologizing. Even if you are 90% right, and they are in the wrong, you can always find some small part of the fight to own up to and apologize for. Fighting isn’t going to change their mind, or resolve the issue, so what you are after isn’t resolution, but simply an end to the fighting. Solving the issue will be done at another time in a different frame of mind. It’s hard to continue screaming at somebody who is saying “You know, you’re right. I shouldn’t have done/said that. I apologize, and will work on not doing/saying that again. Will you forgive me?”
Your mileage will vary with these tips as each couple has their own method for resolving conflict. Some friends of mine resolve their issues with a knock-down drag-out pillow fight. Figure out what works for you, and find a way to stop the fight on civil terms, or find some way to let go of the anger before putting your head on the pillow. Failure to obey verse 26 about not going to sleep angry will lead to the consequences of verse 27. Obey the Bible, Science says so!