Physiological state greatly influences one’s ability to emotionally regulate and connect to a partner in couple therapy. As individuals encounter real or perceived threats in relationships, they are likely to experience sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responses of fight, flight, or freeze, thereby inhibiting the ability to connect with a partner or therapist made possible by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This study, guided by the Polyvagal theory, examines the influence of client sleep, daily stress, and exercise on physiological baseline prior to a couple therapy session. Participants included 23 married couples who attended couple therapy at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Comprehensive Clinic. We examined the influence of client number of awakenings, sleep fragmentation index (SFI), daily stress time, and daily exercise time on measures of physiological baseline which included Galvanic skin response (GSR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and pre-ejection period (PEP) of the left ventricle of the heart. Three multi-level models were conducted to analyze the influence of sleep, stress, and exercise on GSR, RSA, and PEP respectively. Results indicated that daily stress significantly predicts PEP baseline as a measure of SNS fight-or-flight activation. A discussion of potential limitations, recommendations for therapists, and suggestions for future research are included.
College and Department
Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Marriage and Family Therapy
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Rosa, Christina Michelle, "Sleep, Stress, and Sweat: Implications for Client Physiology Prior to Couple Therapy" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 7578.
couple therapy, sleep, stress, exercise, Polyvagal Theory, autonomic nervous system