The Truth About Bad Sleep

Sleep disturbances, undiagnosed sleep apnea were common among US adults, especially among minorities

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

(RxWiki News) Next time you find yourself tossing and turning all night, remember that you're not alone.

In fact, a new study found that many US adults may face sleep disturbances and undiagnosed sleep apnea — especially members of racial and ethnic minorities.

"Our findings underscore the very high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disturbances in middle-aged and older adults, and identify racial/ethnic disparities that include differences in short sleep duration, sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness," said lead study author Dr. Xiaoli Chen, research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, in a press release.

Dr. Chen and colleagues found that, out of 2,230 participants aged 54 to 93, 34 percent had moderate to severe sleep disordered breathing (sleep apnea). And 31 percent slept less than six hours each night.

Sleep studies showed that many patients had moderate or severe sleep apnea, in which the patient repeatedly stops breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea has been tied to high blood pressure and heart problems, as well as daytime sleepiness.

And while 34 percent of the patients appeared to have sleep apnea, only 9 percent of the study patients said they had been told by a doctor that they had the condition, which is treatable.

While these sleep problems were common among the study patients, members or ethnic and racial minorities tended to face the worst of these problems. Blacks were the most likely group to sleep less than six hours per night, for instance. Meanwhile, Chinese-Americans and Hispanics were more likely than whites to face sleep apnea and daytime fatigue.

Most sleep problems are treatable. And treating these problems could help keep many US adults healthy.

"As sleep apnea has been implicated as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and mortality, our findings highlight the need to consider undiagnosed sleep apnea in middle-aged and older adults, with potential value in developing strategies to screen and improve recognition in groups such as in Chinese and Hispanic populations," said senior study author Dr. Susan Redline, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in a press release.

Patients having sleep problems should see a doctor. According to the National Sleep Foundation, patients can also stick to a set sleep schedule, practice a relaxing bedtime routine, exercise every day, and avoid alcohol and tobacco to improve their sleep.

This study was published June 18 in the journal Sleep.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded this research. Dr. Chen and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
June 19, 2015
Last Updated:
June 29, 2015