How Your Race and Your Job Interact with Sleep

Short sleep more common among blacks than whites depending on career

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's no surprise that a person's career can influence how much sleep they regularly get. But the influence of a person's job on their sleep might vary based on their race.

A recent study found that blacks were less likely than whites to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Yet the extent to which blacks got less regular sleep than whites varied based on career fields.

Blacks in professional careers appeared to get less sleep than whites in those careers.

It's not clear why the difference exists between races in getting sufficient sleep.

"Try to get about 7 hours of sleep a night."

This study, led by Chandra L. Jackson, of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, looked at differences in sleep among black and white individuals.

The researchers analyzed data provided by 41,088 participants in the National Health Interview Survey in 2004-2011.

Among the survey questions asked was how much sleep the participants got on average in a 24-hour period.

Within each of eight different industry categories for participants' occupations, the researchers estimated how many blacks versus whites reported getting "short sleep."

Short sleep was defined as getting less than 7 hours of sleep. Seven hours is considered ideal.

The researchers found that a higher percentage of blacks than whites reported getting short sleep.

Among blacks, 37 percent reported getting short sleep, compared to 28 percent among whites.

The biggest gap between black and white respondents in getting short sleep existed among those in professional occupations.

For example, short sleep occurred at a rate 1.4 times greater among blacks working in finance/information/real estate or in educational services compared to whites working in those fields.

In professional/administrative/management careers or public administration/arts/other services careers, blacks experienced short sleep at a rate 1.3 times greater than whites.

In health care/social assistance careers, the rate for blacks' short sleep was 1.4 times greater than that of whites.

The increased prevalence of short sleep among blacks was also true in manufacturing and construction (1.14 times greater for blacks than whites).

"Short sleep generally increased with increasing professional responsibility within a given industry among blacks but decreased with increasing professional roles among whites," the authors wrote. "Our results suggest the need for further investigation of racial/ethnic differences in the work-sleep relationship."

William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, noted that racial differences in medical conditions is not unusual.

"As the article pointed out, there are ethnic differences in various co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes and sleep apnea, and it also may be possible that an ethnic difference based on genetic make-up could contribute to the short sleep duration difference," Dr. Kohler said.

"Because there are genes in our biological clock that make some of us short sleepers and some of us long sleepers, and this could be a contributing factor that needs to be evaluated," he said.

This study was published September 9 in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The research was funded by Harvard Transdisciplinary Research in Energetics and Cancer. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 11, 2013
Last Updated:
September 14, 2013