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The Voice of the Black Community


Elusive sack time: Sleep difficulty more persistent among blacks
Lack of rest has long-term consequences
Published Saturday, August 18, 2018 10:08 pm
by Jason Wooden PhD

Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept at all and dreading the new day?  You’re not alone: 1 in 3 Americans are sleep deprived.  However, if you’re African American, you’re more likely to sleep poorly.

This black-white sleep gap, highlighted as early as 2007, has since been confirmed in multiple research studies.  According to the CDC, 45 percent of blacks get less than 7 hours of sleep compared to 33 percent of whites and Hispanics.

So why do African Americans sleep more poorly than many other ethnic groups?

A number of explanations have been put forth with varying degrees of evidence.  Possible causes include neighborhood effects, discrimination, socioeconomic factors, and sleep disruptions from other health conditions.  

Epidemiologic research has shown that family, social cohesion, safety, noise, and neighborhood can all affect sleep.  Feelings of racial or economic discrimination could also be at play.  In other words, if you are poor, feel discriminated, or live in a chaotic environment, you’re more likely to sleep poorly.

Hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are thought to be linked with insomnia.  According to the American Heart Association, African Americans have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure in the world and are more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. They are also disproportionately affected by obesity.

Making matters worse is a high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. It’s a common disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops during the night.  It’s a real sleep killer because it keeps you out of deep restorative sleep.

Last year, researchers reported the results of a study involving 825 African American adults. They found that most of the participants were living with sleep apnea and had never been diagnosed.

Taken all together, you have the perfect recipe for poor sleep in African American communities. And regardless of which specific issues may be at play for individuals, the impact is real.

That’s because insomnia can have serious consequences. After a night of poor sleep, your brain doesn’t work as well as it should, you have a harder time learning, and don’t cope as well.  As a result, you may perform more poorly at school or work, which can really impact success in life.  

If left untreated, poor sleep over the long-term can increase your risk for other serious conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and dementia.

So, what should you be doing? And what can African American communities do?

First off, we all need to take sleep way more seriously. Most people don’t skip breathing or eating each day, so why neglect sleep when it’s so critical to health and success in life?  The consequences may be easier to ignore in the short-term, but you should treat sleep same way as other life sustaining activities.  

Next, we all need to practice better sleep hygiene. This is what you do during the day and at bedtime that can set the stage for quality sleep. It focuses on things such as avoiding naps or stimulants, your bedtime routine, and your sleep environment.  

Another important thing is to get help from a doctor. An underlying sleep disorder could be causing your insomnia. Other conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, arthritis, and asthma can also cause sleep issues. Sleep hygiene by itself won’t resolve these underlying health issues.

Finally, we need to continue to get the word out. With 1 in 3 Americans sleep deprived, someone you know is likely dealing with insomnia. Let them know that if they skimp on sleep it can come back to bite them.  Encourage them to check things out with a doctor.  

It’s an unfortunate situation that diseases like diabetes and heart disease can hurt sleep yet insomnia can also put you at risk for them.  This just makes regular checkups more important

Summary:  4 things to remember

1. People who sleep poorly perform more poorly during the day and have lower quality of life

2. Long-term insomnia can put you at risk for other serious health conditions

3. For better sleep, practice good sleep hygiene

4. Seek help from a doctor as other health issues could be causing your insomnia

Jason Wooden, a founder of Better Sleep Simplified, has worked for over 20 years in basic research and healthcare technology research and development.

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