Sleep is an essential aspect of human life, and it is crucial for overall health and well-being. However, Black Americans, according to research don’t enjoy equal access to quality sleep, and the group has been consistently found to have sleep disparities. The reason, according to experts, is that racism is a significant factor that contributes to these disparities.
According to a 2022 study from Yale University, Black Americans have lower rates of sleep than whites. Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and an expert on racial disparities in cardiovascular disease, said, "National data indicate that Black adults and other non-white adults have poorer sleep… We want to be able to address disparities in sleep because we know that sleep is associated with some of the leading causes of death, including cardiovascular disease.”
The disparities are linked to social and structural factors, like noise pollution. When considering that Black Americans live in areas that are more populated with traffic, construction, factories, or airports, linking these factors to poor sleep is understandable.
According to SleepFoundation.org, lack of sleep can contribute to chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. These conditions can also lead to sleep-related health problems, such as sleep apnea, which are more prevalent among Black Americans. Racism can impact sleep in several ways, causing psychological distress, which can lead to sleep disturbances. Racism-related stressors such as discrimination, microaggressions, and racialized violence can trigger the body's stress response system, leading to increased cortisol levels and decreased melatonin production. These physiological changes can interfere with sleep and contribute to sleep problems such as insomnia and nightmares.