Racism Never Sleeps: “The Black-White Sleep Gap: An Unexpected Challenge in the Quest for Racial Justice”

From National Journal:

The Black-White Sleep Gap


An unexpected challenge in the quest for racial justice,
October 23, 2015

… Gen­er­ally, people are thought to spend 20 per­cent of their night in slow-wave sleep, and the study’s white par­ti­cipants hit this mark. Black par­ti­cipants, however, spent only about 15 per­cent of the night in slow-wave sleep.

The study was just one data point in a mount­ing pile of evid­ence that black Amer­ic­ans aren’t sleep­ing as well as whites. This past June, the journ­al Sleep pub­lished a study on the sleep qual­ity of black, white, Chinese, and His­pan­ic adults in six cit­ies across the United States. …

The res­ults? “The in­suf­fi­cient amount of sleep, the short sleep dur­a­tion of the Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans really stood out,” says Susan Red­line, a Har­vard pro­fess­or of sleep medi­cine and one of the study’s co-au­thors. “It really em­phas­ized that Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, as a group, are get­ting the least amount of sleep com­pared, at least, to the three oth­er groups.” Whites in the study slept an av­er­age of 6.85 hours; blacks slept an av­er­age of 6.05 hours.

Study­ing a 669-per­son co­hort in Chica­go—44 per­cent were black; the rest were white—she and her col­leagues found, on av­er­age, an hour dif­fer­ence between blacks’ and whites’ sleep.

ON THE QUES­TION of how to ex­plain the black-white sleep gap it­self, re­search­ers have a num­ber of re­lated the­or­ies. (There is a con­sensus that in­nate bio­lo­gic­al dif­fer­ences between blacks and whites are not a factor.)

My impression is that individual sleep patterns are pretty idiosyncratic, so I’m not aware of strong racial differences. In theory, however, it seems possible that people whose ancestors evolved in tropical climates where only mad dogs and Englishmen don’t nap during the noonday sun would be less well-suited to the Anglo-American schedule of 16 hours up without a nap followed by 8 hours down than would people whose ancestors invented that schedule.

The stress caused by dis­crim­in­a­tion is one strong pos­sib­il­ity. …

After the par­ti­cipants’ stays in the San Diego lab, re­search­ers had them take a sur­vey, de­signed to as­sess the level of dis­crim­in­a­tion they felt on any giv­en day. (Par­ti­cipants were asked to agree or dis­agree with state­ments, in­clud­ing “In my life, I have ex­per­i­enced pre­ju­dice be­cause of my eth­ni­city” and “My eth­nic group is of­ten cri­ti­cized in this coun­try.”) Armed with this in­form­a­tion, Tom­fohr and her col­leagues could then de­term­ine a cor­rel­a­tion between dis­crim­in­a­tion and sleep. And it turned out that there was, in fact, a cor­rel­a­tion: More dis­crim­in­a­tion meant less slow-wave sleep. “If you can take out that dis­crim­in­a­tion piece, the av­er­age Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and the av­er­age Caucasi­an look at lot more sim­il­ar,” she says. “It’s not per­fect, but in terms of sleep, a lot of the dis­par­ity goes away.”

Dani­elle L. Beatty Moody, a psy­cho­lo­gist at the Uni­versity of Mary­land, Bal­timore County, con­duc­ted a sim­il­ar test while work­ing as a post-doc­tor­al schol­ar in the psy­chi­atry de­part­ment of the Uni­versity of Pitt­s­burgh in the late 2000s. People who are dis­crim­in­ated against, she be­lieves, carry worry throughout the day. And that worry lit­er­ally keeps them up at night. “It’s un­com­fort­able for them to sleep be­cause they are think­ing back over mis­treat­ment, think­ing back over mal­treat­ment, think­ing back over bi­as they ex­per­i­enced,” she says. “In think­ing about those ex­per­i­ences, they are get­ting more aroused, more cog­nit­ive arous­al, which does the op­pos­ite of what you need it to do to go to sleep.”

Think of how much even more of a genius Ta-Nehisi Coates would be if only he weren’t up all night obsessing over what that white lady on the escalator really meant when she said, “Come on!”

Neigh­bor­hoods also ap­pear to mat­ter when it comes to sleep health. “I have nev­er seen a study that hasn’t shown a dir­ect as­so­ci­ation between neigh­bor­hood qual­ity and sleep qual­ity,” Hale tells me. “Those two are linked.” …

Feel­ings of safety are key here. Hale the­or­izes that—as with dis­crim­in­a­tion—noisy, un­safe, dis­orderly neigh­bor­hoods in­crease stress and the need for vi­gil­ance. “If you know some­body in your neigh­bor­hood who has had a break-in, you might feel pretty un­com­fort­able shut­ting your eyes fall­ing asleep while your two or three chil­dren are sleep­ing in the room next door and no one else is there to pro­tect them,” she says. “And that type of in­sec­ur­ity, wheth­er it’s fin­an­cial or phys­ic­al safety, is more com­mon among people who don’t have con­trol over their en­vir­on­ment, be­cause if you did have con­trol over your en­vir­on­ment, you’d say, ‘I’m get­ting out of here.’?”

Hale has been in­volved in sev­er­al stud­ies that com­pare levels of dis­order in a neigh­bor­hood—as meas­ured by clean­li­ness, crime, pres­ence of graf­fiti, and so on—with sleep and health. Over­all, she finds, poor sleep can ex­plain 20 per­cent of the dif­fer­ence between the good health found in rich neigh­bor­hoods and the bad health found in poor ones. “Based on these res­ults, tar­geted in­ter­ven­tions de­signed to pro­mote sleep qual­ity in dis­ad­vant­aged neigh­bor­hoods (e.g., com­munity-based sleep pro­mo­tion and noise level or­din­ances) could help to im­prove the phys­ic­al health of res­id­ents in the short-term,” Hale writes in one of her co-au­thored pa­pers in the journ­al Pre­vent­ive Medi­cine.

Obviously, the solution to black people sleeping poorly for fear of crime is to let huge numbers of black criminals out of prison.

No, wait, the solution, according to Raj Chetty, is to have black people move to Salt Lake City.

Seriously, as everybody knows, although of course it’s not mentioned in this article, black neighborhoods, at least before everybody moves out, tend to be LOUD.

Over time, fortunately, technology is making it easier to sleep in loud neighborhoods, which is one reason white people are moving back downtown. Fans and air conditioning let you sleep more often with the windows shut, and double pane windows cut the decibels coming through the windows dramatically. (The decline in car alarms along with the decline in car theft has been a boon to city dwellers. Many of my most vivid memories of living in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s involve car alarms.)

A much, much cheaper innovation are better earplugs. If you haven’t tried a few different kinds of earplug yet, please don’t dismiss them. I refused for years to try earplugs on the grounds that they would obviously keep me from falling asleep. Finally, in Ireland in 1994 when my flight got delayed for 24 hours due to the crew being still drunk the morning after Ireland’s 1-0 World Cup victory over defending champion Italy and all the passengers had to share rooms, I tried them and, boom, next thing I knew I was waking up 8 hours later.

There are various kinds of foam earplugs, and different ones appeal to different people. The cone-shaped slick foam earplugs appear to be very popular judging by how many facings there are in the drug store, but I can’t stand them compared to the less popular cylindrical rough foam ones. But that’s just me.

Another way, that’s also not mentioned in this article, for blacks to get more sleep is to turn off the TV.

Blacks, kids and adults alike, watch huge amounts of television. Here’s a 2011 press release from Northwestern U. about a study on young people:

June 8, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. — Minority youth aged 8 to 18 consume an average of 13 hours of media content a day — about 4-1/2 hours more than their white counterparts, according to a Northwestern University report, the first national study to focus exclusively on children’s media use by race and ethnicity.

“In the past decade, the gap between minority and white youth’s daily media use has doubled for blacks and quadrupled for Hispanics,” says Northwestern Professor Ellen Wartella, who directed the study and heads the Center on Media and Human Development in the School of Communication. “The big question is what these disparities mean for our children’s health and education.”

The report finds that minority children spend one to two additional hours each day watching TV and videos, approximately an hour more listening to music, up to an hour and a half more on computers, and 30 to 40 minutes more playing video games than their white counterparts.

The only medium for which no difference was found between minority and white youth was reading print for pleasure. Young people in all groups read for pleasure approximately 30 to 40 minutes a day, the study finds.

“Our study is not meant to blame parents,” says Wartella, a longtime Sesame Workshop trustee and Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Communication.

That sounds like the name of an endowed chair made up by Michel Houellebecq.

… The study, “Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children,” is based on a new analysis, by race, of data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s previous media use studies. It finds that race-related differences among youth are robust even when controlling for factors including parent education and whether or not children are from single- or two-parent families.

Other report findings:

• Minority youth are especially avid adopters of new media, spending about an hour and a half more each day than White youth using their cell phones, iPods and other mobile devices to watch TV and videos, play games, and listen to music (a total of 3 hours and 7 minutes, or 3:07 in mobile media use among Asians, 2:53 among Hispanics, 2:52 among blacks, and 1:20 among whites).

• Traditional TV viewing remains the most popular of all media — with black and Hispanic youth consuming an average of more than three hours of live TV daily (3:23 for blacks, 3:08 for Hispanics, 2:28 for Asians and 2:14 for whites).

• TV viewing rates are even higher when data on time-shifting technologies such as TiVo, DVDs, and mobile and online viewing are included. Total daily television consumption then rises to 5:54 for black youth, 5:21 for Hispanics, 4:41 for Asians, and 3:36 for whites.

• Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to have TV sets in their bedrooms (84% of blacks, 77% of Hispanics compared to 64% of whites and Asians), and to have cable and premium channels available in their bedrooms (42% of blacks and 28% of Hispanics compared to 17% of whites and 14% of Asians).

• Minority youth eat more meals in front of the TV set — with 78% of black, 67% of Hispanic, 58% of white and 55% of Asian 8- to 18-year-olds reporting that the TV is “usually” on during meals at home.

• Trends such as TV sets in the bedroom and eating meals with the TV on begin at an early age. Black children under 6 are twice as likely to have a TV in their bedroom as whites and more than twice as likely to go to sleep with the TV on. Black children under 6 are almost three times as likely to eat dinner in front of the TV than white children the same age.

• Asian youth spend more time in recreational computer use: nearly 3 hours a day (2:53) compared to just under 2 hours for Hispanics (1:49), nearly 1-1/2 hours for blacks (1:24) and slightly less for whites (1:17). …