October 28, 2015

RACISM IN SLEEP?: The National Journal reports on the “Black-White Sleep Gap.”

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 par­ti­cipants were pooled from the Multi-Eth­nic Study of Ath­er­o­scler­o­sis (MESA), a co­hort of more than 6,000 people who, for the last 15 years, have been in­ter­mit­tently pricked, prod­ded, and as­sessed to dis­cov­er how geo­graphy and race in­flu­ence health over time. (More than 950 pa­pers have been pub­lished on this co­hort. It’s from them that re­search­ers have found evid­ence that the farther people live from a wealth­i­er area, the more likely they are to de­vel­op in­sulin res­ist­ance—or that blacks ap­pear to have high­er levels of the sub­stances that cause blood to clot.) . . .

What’s more, the sleep dis­crep­ancy per­sisted even when the re­search­ers tried to con­trol for eco­nom­ic factors: As blacks got wealth­i­er, the gap in sleep nar­rowed, but did not go away en­tirely. “The race gap is de­creased if you take in­to ac­count some in­dic­at­or of eco­nom­ics,” says Laud­er­dale, “but it’s not elim­in­ated in the data that I have looked at.” In­deed, in the San Diego study, re­search­ers also con­cluded that there were ra­cial dif­fer­ences in sleep re­gard­less of in­come. (It should be noted, however, that re­search­ers con­cede their at­tempts to con­trol for eco­nom­ic in­dic­at­ors are far from per­fect. “We know our meas­ures for ad­just­ing for so­cioeco­nom­ic status are still some­what lim­ited,” says Red­line. “Some­times the vari­ation isn’t great enough.”)

So what ex­plains the gap? It’s an in­triguing and still some­what open-ended sci­entif­ic mys­tery.

The statistical disparate impact of sleep is just further evidence, of course, of “white privilege.”

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