Jessai Flores

Disparities in sleep duration between Black people and white people have existed without improvement over a period of 15 years, and sleep disparities between Latino or Hispanic people and white people have increased during that period, researchers found. 

A paper published in early April illustrating these findings is part of a series of studies that the Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, or CORE, has been conducting in collaboration with other institutions around racial and ethnic disparities in different health indicators. This specific research study utilized data from the National Health Interview Survey, which has been conducted annually across the nation since 1957. The team specifically looked at data from 2004 through 2018, since in those years, the survey consistently asked respondents how much they slept each day on average. 

“What motivated us to study this is to see if there has been any improvement in eliminating sleep disparities by race and ethnicity over a 15-year period of time,” said César Caraballo-Cordovez, a postdoctoral associate in CORE and the first author of the paper. “It’s very complex because sleep is obviously … a basic need, but it’s influenced by several factors, and we interpret these as an indicator of overall health … We cannot say what is driving these disparities. However, there has been a lot of research using different sources in which they have tried to determine why there is this disparity.”

Caraballo-Cordovez explained that the recommended duration of sleep is between seven to nine hours each night. The team looked at the prevalence of both short and long sleep duration among four major groups: Black people, Latino or Hispanic people, Asian people and white people. Upon comparing the differences between the groups, they found that Black people reported the highest prevalence of both short and long sleep duration –– conditions which can be harmful to health. Furthermore, upon investigating whether there were changes over the years, they found that the prevalence of short sleep duration and disparity in short sleep duration did not change significantly for Black people. In addition to the fact that there have not been any improvements in eliminating the sleep disparities between Black people and white people, the disparity between Latino or Hispanic people and white people was nonexistent in 2004 but present in 2018. 

Jeph Herrin, assistant professor of medicine and co-author of the paper, noted that there are differences in the effects of short and long sleep durations. From a health perspective, those who do not get an adequate amount of sleep are likely to face different health concerns than those who sleep for long durations. According to him, this creates “two different sides of the coin,” where experts need to address the different causes for each kind of sleep habit.

Caraballo-Cordovez noted that Chandra Jackson, a co-author and member of the National Institutes of Health, has tried to understand the driving factors behind the disparities. According to him, some factors they found are that Black people in the U.S. have more “barriers to achieve healthy sleep,” including stress from finances, racial discrimination or housing struggles. In addition, noise, light and air pollution may also be factors. Furthermore, job conditions such as longer working hours, having multiple jobs and taking on many shifts can prevent them from being able to get more rest. 

Since this is a very complex issue, as Caraballo-Cordovez described, there aren’t any “simple solutions.” He mentioned that one method would be to improve campaigns to better inform people of the importance of healthy sleep. However, unless the underlying causes of the disparities are addressed, the campaigns’ impacts may be “limited.”

“Differences in income, differences in working conditions, in stress … those are the structural things that are disproportionately preventing Black people in the U.S. from having good sleep, but also overall health,” Caraballo-Cordovez said. “Equity, in this case, will be achieved when everyone in the U.S. could have the tools necessary to maintain and achieve a healthy life and a healthy sleep.”

In terms of future research, Yuan Lu, assistant professor at the School of Management and co-author, said that the team has “a full body of work to look at racial-ethnic disparities.” The researchers want to use the data from the survey to determine whether the U.S. has made any progress in reducing racial and ethnic differences over different health indicators other than sleep, which include overall health, access to care and hypertension.

The CORE office is located at 195 Church St.

Sophie Wang covers COVID-19 and Yale New-Haven Health. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a freshman in Berkeley College prospectively majoring in statistics & data science and English.