An article published in the New York Times earlier this week has been generating quite a bit of buzz for its claims that the length and quality of a person’s sleep is linked to his/her race. The article opens with a quote from Moleendo Stewart, a black Brooklyn resident, speculating that his trouble sleeping could be associated with a Miami, FL childhood spent listening to gunshots all night (which earned my raised eyebrow). It goes on to discuss a series of possible factors that could contribute to blacks’ lower rates of continuous, restful sleep, including decreased likelihood of a set bedtime schedule during childhood; social and economic stressors; and racial inequality.

Sleep studies with race and ethnicity as determinants are relatively new. Researchers are not, as yet, able to conclude whether or not lowered sleep rates for people of color should be primarily traced to nature or nurture. But the numbers show a significant enough racial gap to warrant additional study:

The latest evidence that race and ethnicity can affect sleep came in June at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, held in Boston. In one of two studies on the topic presented there, white participants from the Chicago area were found to get an average of 7.4 hours of sleep per night; Hispanics and Asians averaged 6.9 hours and blacks 6.8 hours. Sleep quality — defined as ease in falling asleep and length of uninterrupted sleep — was also higher for whites than for blacks.

Another interesting point raised in the NYT piece is the effect of relationship status on various groups’ sleep quality:

At least one study suggests that socioeconomic factors affecting sleep are highly specific to race and gender. For example, being divorced or widowed was particularly detrimental to the sleep of Hispanic men, while never being married was more likely to take a toll on the sleep of Asian men. Asian women lacking in education were more likely to report sleep problems than similarly educated white women. And men of all races who were in relationships slept better than single men, regardless of relationship quality; for women, the quality of the relationship was more likely to affect sleep.

Do any of these findings surprise you? Do you think diminished sleep quality is more the result of nature (race/ethnicity) or nurture (socioeconomic factors)?

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