Sleeping less than seven hours a night can lead to a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.
A new study out this week suggests that blacks in the United States have shorter sleep durations than their white counterparts — particularly professionals — and may contribute to the reasons why these conditions affect black Americans more.
“Education and health care are where you see the biggest disparity,” says Chandra L. Jackson, PhD, post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study.
She attributes some of the disparity to data that blacks are more likely to do shift work, especially night shifts, disrupting the normal sleep cycle. Blacks are also more likely to have multiple jobs, be single parents and live or work in more stressful environments, which also decreases the chances of quality sleep.
Previous research has shown that sleep varies according to the person’s profession or industry, but none have focused specifically at the difference between races.
A 2010 study found that the number of people experiencing short sleep duration has increased over the past two decades. In their research, people managing companies and enterprises had the shortest sleep time followed by the transportation and warehousing industry.
Jackson did suspect, however, that it might be different among blacks.
“Often times it’s so hard to have strong enough [research] data to support your everyday life experiences,” she says. “I was surprised, but it supports my thoughts.”
She hopes her project will spark further research that looks into the social, behavioral and cultural reasons for the differences. Jackson also points out the real take home message.
“I think that African-Americans, African-American professionals in particular, need to pay more attention to their sleep quality and how much sleep they get,” Jackson says. “You can quickly lose mental alertness, decrease work productivity or have workplace injuries.”
Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for MSNBC’s theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.