Black Americans Don’t Sleep As Well As White Americans. That’s a Problem.

Brian Resnick and Gina Barton, Vox, April 12, 2018

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Research shows black Americans on average simply don’t sleep as well white Americans do. They don’t sleep as long, they don’t sleep through the night as often, and they suffer more heavily from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder. Other minority groups, such as Latinos and Asian Americans, also sleep more poorly than white Americans. But the differences are starkest in black communities.

The sleep gap is essential to understand. It’s a disparity that is both caused by social inequalities and likely to perpetuate them. And that means it could be a ripe target for an intervention that could radically improve millions of American lives. {snip}

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends most adults get around seven hours of sleep or more per night. And in a nationally representative study in 2014, the CDC found 33 percent of white Americans reported getting less than that. For black Americans, that figure jumped to 46 percent reporting poor sleep. To put it more simply: Around half of black Americans don’t get enough sleep.

The CDC survey simply had people report how much sleep they were getting. But researchers have also conducted studies where participants have their sleep tracked by Fitbit-like devices called actigraphy bands.

Some of these studies, which track a large number of participants over the course of a week or more, find as much as an hour difference in the average time spent asleep between black and white Americans.

Not only do black Americans sleep fewer hours, there’s evidence that the sleep they get is of poorer quality: waking up more frequently and spending less time in the most restful stages of sleep. Black Americans are also more likely to develop sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that can have a serious impact on sleep and health.

When studies control for various socioeconomic factors (like education level), the sleep gap narrows, but it doesn’t disappear completely.

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In turn, it’s suspected that poor sleep can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, which also disproportionally affect black Americans.

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The answers here aren’t simple. It’s not yet conclusively known if helping people sleep better would reduce the prevalence of conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Poor sleep contributes to and is a risk factor for these conditions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean good sleep would lessen them.

And even if better sleep is the ticket, it’s a huge challenge to get millions to sleep better.

{snip} It doesn’t lift the stress of discrimination, which researchers find also plays a role in keeping people up at night.

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{snip} And if sleep is disrupted on such a wide scale, it’s indicative of greater disruptions elsewhere.

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