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Lost sleep may be linked to racial differences

Do sleep patterns differ among ethnic groups?
Do sleep patterns differ among ethnic groups?
CarbonNYC via Flickr / Creative Commons

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The correlation between sleep quality and overall health has long been known; lack of shut-eye has been shown to contribute to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. More recently, sleep researchers have also seen a disparity in quality and quantity of sleep among different racial and ethnic groups.

Several studies have found that minorities are more likely to have unhealthy sleep patterns such as taking longer to fall asleep, shorter sleep times and more interrupted sleep. In fact, one study found that on average, black men slept 82 minutes less a night than white women. And while Mexican immigrants seem to sleep well, their U.S.-born children are much more likely to toss and turn.

Why the differences? Social scientists point to factors such as higher poverty rates, greater concentration of minorities and immigrants in inner cities, stress resulting from unemployment, multiple jobs and odd work hours. Cultural differences, too, play a part: children of blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have regularly enforced bedtimes and routines than white children, which researchers say translates into less classroom success.

How to break this cycle of social, educational and economic disadvantage? Should public health policy put more emphasis on healthy sleep?


Lauren Hale, Ph.D. , associate professor of preventive medicine, Stonybrook University Graduate Program in Public Health

Michael Grandner, PhD., University of Pennsylvania Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology