Data Spotlight on: Black Americans
While most Americans have seen improvements in sleep over the past decade, Black Americans continue to sleep significantly less than other groups. This trend has been examined both by researchers and the popular press.21,22 Researchers have found that Black Americans, in addition to getting shorter sleep, are also more likely to get poor quality sleep – spending less time in the most restorative stages of sleep23,24 – and to develop obstructive sleep apnea.25 Black Americans are also disproportionately affected by diseases that have been associated with poor sleep, such as obesity, diabetes,26 and cardiovascular disease.25
The exact reason(s) for Black Americans’ poor sleep is still unclear, though researchers have proposed potential contributing factors, largely related to the social inequality Black Americans face in the U.S.:
Experiences of discrimination: the stress of racial discrimination has been associated with spending lesstime in deep sleep and more time in light sleep among Black Americans.24
Living environment: neighborhood quality has been linked to sleep quality,27 and Stanford researchersfound that racial and income disparities persist in neighborhoods.28 They found that while middle-income white families are more likely to live in resource-rich neighborhoods with other middle-income families, middle-income black families tend to live in markedly lower-income, resource-poorneighborhoods.
Work and income inequality: for example, shift work can cause irregular working hours. This leadspeople to suffer “social jetlag,”; a discrepancy in sleep hours between work and free days,29 leading tosymptoms of sleep deprivation.
Lack of access to resources: particularly sleep-related healthcare and education.
Some of these factors are being addressed directly. Professor Girardin Jean-Louis from New York University and his team have devoted themselves to addressing the access to healthcare and education issue among local black communities in New York by tailoring online materials about obstructive sleep apnea to the culture, language, and barriers of specific communities.30 Professor Jamie Zeitzer and his team at Stanford recently completed an initial clinical trial of a drug (suvorexant), which was found to help people who work at night get three more hours of sleep during the day.31 Professor Zeitzer’s ultrashort light flash therapy (discussed above) may also help with shift work. These interventions could help to improve sleep for Black Americans, but they may not make up the whole picture; it could be that the underlying social inequality needs to be addressed in order to fully close the sleep gap.
Thanks to Jamie Zeitzer and Ken Smith for their insights and edits on this report.
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