In terms of oft-given, rarely-sought relationship advice, “never go to bed angry” is right up there with classics like “if your partner is jealous, it means they love you” and “put your kids above your marriage.” On its face, this tidbit of wisdom makes sense: Going to sleep before resolving an argument—especially a you-never-water-the-plants petty one—can encourage stewing in your own wrath, each person spinning (or rage-dreaming) themselves into a mental tizzy. But as Jaya Saxena wrote in a recent Cut piece in defense of dozing off mad, “gritting through a fight at all costs has its own consequences, and sometimes the only solution is to pass out and start again.”
Saxena’s reasoning is convincing, especially around how earth-shattering divisions tend to feel more manageable in the daylight and how lack of physical energy can get in the way of productive discussion. But her argument relies on an important assumption: Your relationship needs to be pretty functional for this to solution to work. “I knew why I didn’t mind falling asleep before things were entirely resolved,” Saxena writes, “Because there was no doubt in my mind that we’d both still be there in the morning.” That lack of insecurity seems key.
As a member of the perpetually single caste, I don’t yet have a first-hand opinion on how these opposing strategies work in a romantic context. (Though trust me, I’ve heard some iteration of don’t let the sun rise on an argument at least once every holiday season where tryptophan and free-running red wine loosens the lips of every auntie.) But I have noticed this advice slipping into my platonic relationships as well. Among my friends, I’ve noticed a weird pressure to resolve a fight (about poor life choices or whether they can afford a dog) as quickly as possible, increasing desperation and anger tinging our words as we race to beat some arbitrary deadline.
For example, on the eve of our graduation, my best friend and I ended up in an argument that more than anything else was about the fear that once we were apart we wouldn’t know how to communicate. As our inevitable separation loomed, any disagreement that lasted longer than 30 minutes, even this healthy one, felt like the end. While we ended up resolving our issues, I can only imagine how much less painful that would’ve been if we had both taken a step back. When tiredness set in, the argument inevitably started spiraling into tangents that moved us further and further away from an end goal.
Based on an informal survey here at Slate, the rule still seems to be doled out fairly often despite most people acknowledging that it is probably not the best advice. For friends and lovers, the “don’t go to sleep angry” rule doesn’t take a lot of things into account, including the fact that sleep deprivation and high emotions mix about as well as Mountain Dew and tequila. Speaking of which, add in alcohol, and you’ve got a recipe for an over-the-top fight, not to mention an emotional hangover, the (likely dumb) origins of which it can be messy to piece back together in the light of day. And as one colleague noted, the external pressure of trying to resolve an argument in an allotted amount of time means one person will most likely end up artificially capitulating—effectively ruling out a productive solution to whatever problem you’re having.
Rather than refusing to go to sleep angry, most couples here seemed to agree that the most important part of an argument was re-affirming that both sides were on the same team. Putting a pin in fights and revisiting them with a cup of coffee in the morning sounds much more pleasant than duking it out to the soundtrack of late-night television or your neighbor’s 2 a.m. rager. And the same goes for friends: Waiting until you’re both in better headspaces to resolve a conflict is much better than word-vomiting all your feelings against a made-up clock. So along with shag carpet and strict gender roles, maybe we can finally let this piece of advice die in the 21st century—disagreements, whether between partners or friends, should be handled intelligently. And intelligence often requires sleeping on something till the morning.