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Black and Brown communities aren't getting enough sleep compared to white people, report reveals

Retired senior man sleeping on bed by alarm clock at home (Getty Images)
Retired senior man sleeping on bed by alarm clock at home (Getty Images)

Compared to white people, Black and Brown communities are routinely getting less sleep, research finds.

A recent report from Science Magazine reveals that communities of color take longer to fall asleep and wake up more during the night, which leads to a number of concerning health issues, like heart diseases and diabetes. They also spend less time in deep sleep.

It’s something University of Miami researcher Girardin Jean-Louis has been working to find solutions to.

“Anybody really sleeping six [hours] or less are at risk,” he says. “In terms of Blacks and Brown folks of Latinx background, about 45% of them are sleeping six or less, which means therefore that the risk for cardiometabolic condition as well as early mortality are substantially higher.”

To combat the disparity, Jean-Louis heads to churches, hair salons and barbershops to teach communities about getting enough sleep.

Jean-Louis first began his sleep studies in the late ‘90s in San Diego. He noticed that Black and Brown men were sleeping an hour less than white men on average, and wondered about the reasons behind it.

Shift work is one reason behind the lack of sleep these communities are getting, according to Science Magazine. Many Black and Brown people work non-traditional hours, like at night.

A 2010 study at an extended-care facility in Massachusetts found that Black and Hispanic people are twice as likely to work the night shift compared to white people. And other environmental and socioeconomic factors are also at fault.

“Noise is a problem, light pollution is a problem. The temperature fluctuation in those high-rise buildings in Brooklyn, New York, are significant problems. Lack of access to green spaces has significant problems,” says Jean-Louis.

Stress related to racism is also a cause behind poor sleep, he adds. Racial discrimination has been found to be behind 60% of insomnia for Black people.

Race related stressors — like the ongoing trial into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, can also have profound impacts on sleep. Black people may struggle to get enough sleep.

For white people, Jean-Louis says, it’s easy to bounce back quickly. But it’s different for communities of color.

“If you saw what was happening, for instance, about a year and a half ago and George Floyd happened, a lot of Black folks were just not sleeping enough,” he says. “So if you already sleeping six hours or less and you lose another 30 minutes, this could be the tipping point for what might become high blood pressure, diabetes and difficulty with HIV and cancer management.”

As a child, Jean-Louis spent hours in church and is now able to understand the lingo of what people want to hear. When he speaks to Black people at church, he relates the importance of getting enough sleep to the story of Daniel in the Bible.

In the Bible, Daniel was a man who was able to decipher dreams. When Jean-Louis speaks about sleep to communities, he mentions that Daniel wouldn’t have been able to get to the dream state if he wasn’t a healthy sleeper.

“When you speak that language, people tend to be a bit more receptive because that’s their lane, that they’re comfortable with this,” he says.

Jean-Louis has enlisted volunteers who become “certified sleep educators” to help him spread the message about getting good sleep. The team also created a website for people in the community to learn more about sleep.

When it comes to solving sleep problems, Jean Louis says there needs to be caution. Some people just naturally function fine with just six hours of sleep.

But someone who realizes they’re not functioning their best should check with their doctor for help, he says.

“Similarly, people who are sleeping an adequate amount seem to have to do much better when they take the COVID vaccine, for instance,” he says. “So sleep an adequate amount. Boost your immune function. [That] makes it easier for you to function on a daily basis.”

Jeannette Muhammad produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Muhammad also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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