For the Black community, racism impacts our lives disproportionally every day. In our workplace, in our communities, in medical care, and even in our sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for overall health and wellness, and lack of or otherwise poor sleep, can put you at a risk for higher rates of critical health problems and diseases. Have you ever been prescribed “plenty of rest” when you’re sick or injured? There’s a good reason for it. Sleep allows your brain to slow down and divert energy you’d otherwise be using towards healing and restoration. Sleep deprivation, or even oversleeping, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, memory loss, and diabetes, conditions that African-Americans are already predisposed to, so you can imagine why getting a full night’s rest is so important. But for millions of Black people, a full eight hours is more dream than reality.
Eight hours of sleep are recommended each night, and yet Black people are twice as likely to sleep less than those recommended hours. Understanding how racism affects our sleep health and what systems are in place to enable it are the first steps to address the sleep disparity among our communities and determine what actions we should take to combat it.
Multiple studies have been done to document sleep behavior among the masses and each one highlights the disparity of sleep quality between Black and non-black responders. The National Sleep Foundation does a study every year targeting different criteria, and in 2010, the focus was on the differences in sleep among multiple ethnicities. In the study, it was found that African Americans reported the least amount of sleep on workdays/weekdays than the other ethnicities.
The fact that the study specified workday is important. Work is a common stressor, and it’s not surprising it could be a definitive cause for sleep deprivation among the Black community. As Black people, we face a higher requirement to overperform in all aspects of our work life to be perceived on the same level as white mediocrity. To be in the same standing as our peers, we have to work twice or even three times as hard. This can translate into working extra hours or overnight shifts, ruining our body’s natural ability to sync our circadian rhythm with the rising and setting of the sun. We’re also more susceptible to stress due to discrimination, financial issues, and our environment—all of which can lead to a higher rate of sleeplessness.
Despite this disparity, the study went on to discover that the Black community is most likely to speak with a doctor about their sleep problems, so why does the discrepancy in sleep quality continue to affect Black people disproportionately? Our answer lies in the institutional and inherent racism within medical care. Black people are less likely to have health insurance or accessible and high-quality medical care than their white counterparts, and when care is available to them, they’re often denied the treatment they need. This can be in part to the stereotype that Black people are inherently stronger than nonblack people and can “endure” it, or it can simply boil down to the doctor disbelieving their concerns about their health. These biases leave the Black community vulnerable to these stressors and, in return, vulnerable to poor sleep health.
Our May box was curated to bring awareness of the quality of sleep and disparities that exist, so that you can make intentional changes to start sleeping better. It is a natural & biological need, so let's enjoy the items to help us on our way to better quality sleep! Check out the May Box reveal blog to see what's inside.