Racism and Sleep, Health Problems

Even perceived racial discrimination linked to sleep and health disorders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Social and environmental stressors have a hand in how likely a person is to experience disturbed sleep, and new research shows that racism may also be a stressor - even if the racism is only perceived.

Racial discrimination is associated with an increased risk of sleep difficulties, which could also have a negative impact on a person's physical and mental health. Perceived racism was linked to a 61 percent increase in self-reported sleep disturbance.

"Individuals who perceive racial discrimination are more likely to suffer sleep problems."

Michael A. Grandner, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, was the lead author of the study that analyzed responses from more than 7,000 people in Michigan and Wisconsin, the only states to collect data on both sleep and racism.

Perceived racism was assessed with the question: "Within the past 12 months when seeking health care, do you feel your experiences were worse than, the same as, or better than for people of other races?" Respondents were classified as having sleep disturbance if they reported having difficulty sleeping at least six nights in the past two weeks.

“The most surprising finding in this study was that individuals who perceived racial discrimination were more likely to experience sleep difficulties, and it did not matter if they were black or white, men or women, rich or poor, or even if they were otherwise depressed or not, since these were adjusted for in the statistical analysis," Grandner said. "Even though sleep is a biological process, it can be affected by social environments.”

Results suggested that people who experience racial discrimination are more likely to have poor mental and physical health, and that sleep may be an important pathway linking discrimination with health problems.

Findings from the study were presented in June 2011 at the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).

Findings presented at academic meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 5, 2011
Last Updated:
July 6, 2011