The spring of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most intense moments of the national discussion over racial inequity in the United States. After the senseless death of George Floyd, many Americans were forced to reflect on the stark contrasts between the lives of white Americans and those of color in the United States.
People of color in the United States have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus epidemic as a result of increased awareness of police brutality. Sadly, this tragic fact serves as a sobering reminder that the inclination to focus on public health data in aggregate might hide how the responsibilities of health problems are not evenly dispersed throughout society.
Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or socioeconomic level all play a role in a person’s likelihood of experiencing a range of health problems. Health disparities are the result of the varying outcomes experienced by these various groups.
There is increasing evidence that racial and ethnic differences in health outcomes can be attributed to a lack of sleep. People of color have a greater incidence of cardiovascular disease because of sleep insufficiency, which is linked to other health inequities.
Research into racial and ethnic differences in sleep is just getting started, and there is still a lot we don’t know about this crucial subject. Research on the extent, causes, and implications of the disproportionate burden of sleeping difficulties in the United States is presented in this guide.
Discussing Race and Ethnicity in Public Health
Race and ethnicity are difficult concepts to pin down, according to researchers in both the scientific and social sciences. In spite of past claims to the contrary, these are not physiologically determined groups. Racism and ethnicity are socially produced and must be understood in context, according to the majority of contemporary ideas.
As the director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, points out, “the effects of these social constructs are real” and may be found in a variety of health outcomes.
Researchers commonly use broad categories of race and ethnicity, such as those provided in the United States Census, to better discover health inequalities. Although these categories are imperfect, they have provided a starting point for exploring the disparities in sleep and other health problems.
Future studies in this area should consider the concept of intersectionality, which recognizes that the effects of inequality might differ for people based on a variety of criteria, not only race or ethnicity. It is possible to gain a better knowledge of health disparities and possible solutions by using a multidisciplinary approach.
How Is Sleep Different Among Racial and Ethnic Groups?
Sleeping disorders are a big problem in the United States, as evidenced by the country’s top-line figures. Around 30% of Americans are said to have insomnia, and a much higher percentage sleep for less than 7 hours on occasion.
Despite the fact that sleep disorders can affect persons of any race or ethnicity, researchers who have begun to delve deeper into this vast body of data have found that they have a disproportionate effect on people of color.
Sleeping Problems in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
Accurate data on how much sleep people get is difficult to come by. Even if it’s not completely correct, self-reported levels of sleep quantity and quality provide a significant amount of data.
Sleep in America Poll, for example, collects responses on important areas of sleep habit. For example, a 2010 poll indicated that African-American respondents reported getting the least amount of sleep on weekdays.
Other studies have revealed that black people are more likely than other demographics to suffer from sleep deprivation. The prevalence and severity of sleep apnea, a breathing problem with potentially life-threatening effects, were both shown to be higher among black persons in general and among black young adults in particular.
The black population has also been found to have higher rates of extended sleep, which is defined as sleeping for more than nine hours every night. Long sleep, like short sleep, has been linked to an increased risk of death.
Hispanics and Latinos are also more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, according to a recent study. Compared to whites, Hispanic and Latino adults tend to report higher rates of poor quality sleep, as well as short and extended sleep durations.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives, Asians, and Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders all appear to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of sleep disorders. However, the amount of research in these groups has been minimal, making it difficult to make conclusions on sleep disorders among them.
What Are Potential Causes of Health Disparities in Sleep?
It’s impossible to determine for sure what causes the disparities in sleep between racial and ethnic groups in the United States because of the wide range of factors that affect sleep. People who sleep in controlled circumstances (like sleep labs) don’t show the same sleep inequalities, which suggests that social, economic, and cultural factors play a significant role.
People of color are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders than their white counterparts, according to researchers examining health inequalities. Many of these characteristics share a common theme: increased levels of both mental and physical stress.
The “on alert” state of hyperarousal that is induced by stress has been revealed to be a primary driver of insomnia by altering several systems in the body.
Those who have examined the problem have suggested the following as possible causes of sleep-related health disparities:
- Shift Work: It is more common for people of color to work night shifts, irregular shifts, or additional hours, which might disrupt their circadian rhythms and disrupt their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
- Occupational Hazards: Discrimination in the workplace is a common source of stress for persons of color. People of color are also more likely to work in industries with higher safety risks, which can lead to stress or occupational exposures to allergens or irritants, increasing their chance of developing sleep apnea..
- Racial Discrimination: Only one component of racial discrimination can have a long-term impact on a person’s health: police violence. Many people of color have anxiety and insomnia as a result of their experiences of racial discrimination and other forms of oppression.
- Financial Stress: Unemployment and poverty affect a larger proportion of the population of persons of color, and this can lead to severe financial strain as well as day-to-day anxiety.
- Neighborhood Environment: Pollution, noise, allergens, and other stresses and causes of sleep apnea may be more prevalent in neighborhoods with more people of race.
- Acculturation: Anxiety and stress related to the transition to the mainstream culture in the United States can affect the quality of sleep for ethnic groups, particularly those with large immigrant populations.
- Unequal Access to and Quality of Medical Care: People of color’s health outcomes are negatively impacted by disparities in access to care. There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, such as a lack of awareness.
It’s no secret that people of color have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, and many of these variables contribute to these conditions. People of race are more likely to suffer from these illnesses, which may have a direct impact on their health.
Why Do Racial and Ethnic Sleep Disparities Matter?
A good night’s sleep is essential to the well-being of your body and mind in almost every way. Almost every system in the body benefits directly from its positive effects on physical well-being and healing. A good night’s sleep is essential for sharpening one’s mind, maintaining focus, and storing information in the brain. Emotional well-being is aided by a good night’s sleep as well.
Researchers looking at health inequities in minority populations have identified inadequate sleep as a possible explanation for discrepancies in health outcomes. For example, people of the race who have higher rates of sleep apnea may have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Public health professionals can build better initiatives to address sleep and other health inequities by better understanding how individuals of color experience sleep disorders. A good place to start when trying to eliminate health inequities is by focusing on how to get a better night’s sleep.
What Are Next Steps for Addressing Sleep-Related Health Disparities?
An ambitious program is needed to learn more about the presence, causes, and effects of health inequities, so that a personalized approach may be established to address them.
Research on sleep-related health disparities requires not just more but also better-quality data collection. Many people wrongly record their sleep, and the degree of inaccuracy may vary among racial and ethnic groups. A more thorough data set would take an intersectional approach and represent these issues.
A more accurate picture of the problem’s scope is desirable, but it is not sufficient. Many widely used sleep aids are based on studies that included a disproportionately small sample of individuals of color. CBT-I and sleep hygiene education may need to be adapted for racial and ethnic minorities in order to be more effective in treating insomnia. Only studies that include a wide and representative sample of patients and are well-designed can shed light on the most effective treatments for these patients. It is possible that improving sleep could have a positive impact on cardiovascular health if the interventions are successful.
Additionally, addressing racial and ethnic disparities in sleep will necessitate greater attention to topics such as health care, policing brutality, and environmental justice, as well as race-based discrimination and economic opportunity.