Black Americans don’t sleep as well as white Americans. That’s a problem.
Bad sleep may fuel health disparities in America.
In America, you can find inequality between white and black people just about everywhere you look. Stark disparities exist in education, in health, in income. And they creep into underappreciated parts of daily life too, like sleep.
Research shows black Americans on average simply don’t sleep as well white Americans do. They don’t sleep as long, they don’t sleep through the night as often, and they suffer more heavily from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder. Other minority groups, such as Latinos and Asian Americans, also sleep more poorly than white Americans. But the differences are starkest in black communities.
The sleep gap is essential to understand. It’s a disparity that is both caused by social inequalities and likely to perpetuate them. And that means it could be a ripe target for an intervention that could radically improve millions of American lives. Here are the most important things to know about the black-white sleep gap in America.
Studies consistently find black Americans sleep more poorly than white Americans
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends most adults get around seven hours of sleep or more per night. And in a nationally representative study in 2014, the CDC found 33 percent of white Americans reported getting less than that. For black Americans, that figure jumped to 46 percent reporting poor sleep. To put it more simply: Around half of black Americas don’t get enough sleep.
The CDC survey simply had people report how much sleep they were getting. But researchers have also conducted studies where participants have their sleep tracked by Fitbit-like devices called actigraphy bands.
Some of these studies, which track a large number of participants over the course of a week or more, find as much as an hour difference in the average time spent asleep between black and white Americans.