The Sleep Gap: How Lack of Sleep Affects Minorities in America

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By Jori Hamilton

Getting enough sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Not only does it give your mind and body the time they need to recharge, but adequate sleep helps your body to function normally. Alternatively, not getting enough sleep can be damaging and dangerous. Sleep issues can contribute to a variety of different health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke. Many factors can play into your sleep health. However, recent research has found a connection between race and sleep disorders. There are clear sleep disparities among certain demographics, putting people of color at a greater risk of not getting the sleep they need. Why is this, and what can you do about it?

Why Does the Gap Exist?

The sleep gap doesn’t exist because of any known biological issues or differences between races. Instead, sleep habits among different racial groups tend to form based on environmental or cultural circumstances. One Sleep in America poll from 2010 found that black respondents sleep the least amount on weekdays. Sleep apnea also tended to be a problem for more black individuals.

So, what are the potential causes? Why does the gap actually exist? Some of the possibilities include:


  • Shift work (people of color tend to work more overnight jobs or irregular hours)
  • Occupational hazards
  • Stress from racial discrimination
  • Financial stress
  • Neighborhood environment
  • Acculturation for immigrant groups

The stress caused by some of these issues can lead to additional health complications, including GERD, which can make it even more difficult to sleep. Health problems, pain, and illnesses can all contribute to poor sleep habits, fueling the cycle of not getting enough rest, but adding to your stress levels. If you’re a minority in this country, you probably already have a good idea of what’s causing you stress or why you have a hard time falling asleep at night. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to change your circumstances. You might be able to move out of a dangerous neighborhood, change your career, or even live somewhere comfortable and safe. But, things like racial discrimination don’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.

With that in mind, it’s important to look at the bigger health disparities facing our country.

Health and the Power Dynamic

Unfortunately, sleep is only one piece of the puzzle. In many predominantly black communities, people don’t get enough sleep because they don’t feel like they can rest. Again, that might have to do with their environment or work situation. But, there’s no denying that the current state of the world and the stress caused by it are also contributing.

We live in a society where rest is often viewed as weakness. In light of the recent BLM movement and mass protests across the country, many minorities feel this isn’t the time to rest and rejuvenate but fight. They aren’t being given much of an opportunity to relax when specific inequalities show up regularly. One in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by the police. That statistic should shock everyone, but it probably doesn’t.

However, it’s exactly why the power dynamic needs to change. Taking care of yourself needs to be viewed as a way to gain strength instead of a sign of weakness. Minority groups need to start focusing on their overall health. That includes regular doctor visits, preventative monitoring, and getting enough sleep each night.

Keep these ideas in mind if you’re a minority in this country. Do what you can to make positive changes to your overall sleep health, and make getting enough rest a priority so you can fight back against other disparaging gaps in equality


BioJori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in topics related to politics, urban living, society, and health. If you’d like to learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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