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Reports show that Black people experience more sleep deprivation than other groups

May is a month dedicated to raising awareness about mental health. One vital aspect of mental health and wellbeing is getting an adequate amount of sleep each night. Sleep plays a critical role in our emotional health and is linked to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Sleep deprivation can have a deleterious effect on our thinking and emotional regulation. While there is some variation as far as how much sleep each person needs per night to function at optimal levels, Americans, in general, are severely sleep-deprived, indicates the American Psychological Association.

When examining the current results of this informal poll asking LinkedIn users how much sleep they get per night, out of more than 1,400 responses, 9% reported getting less than five hours of sleep per night. 62% reported getting 5-7 hours of sleep per night and only 28% reported getting more than seven hours of sleep per night. An interesting finding is that sleep debt, or chronic sleep deprivation, maybe impacting some groups more than others. A 2019 Fast Company and SurveyMonkey study surveyed over 3,000 respondents to better understand sleep patterns and habits. The study found that more than half of white respondents were getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, while only 44% of Hispanic respondents and 36% of Black respondents were. This research echoes previous studies that demonstrate a racial disparity in sleep—Black Americans, in particular, are experiencing more sleep debt than other groups.

There are several possible explanations for this racial disparity in sleep. One of the most pervasive stereotypes about Black people is a categorization of laziness. Many of these racist beliefs attributed to Black people started during slavery and are still pervasive today. An example of this was illustrated in 2018 when a white student at Yale University called campus police on a Black student, Lolade Siyonbola, who was napping in a common room of a dorm. Within the Black community, there may be internalized beliefs that sleep and rest will be associated with laziness, which can contribute to sleep disparities.

The pay gap may also impact sleep inequality. Black professionals still get paid less than their white counterparts, reports find. Because of this, Black professionals have to work more to get paid the same amount, which may mean long hours of work and less time to rest. An additional factor that may contribute to the racial sleep gap is housing discrimination. People of color are more likely to live in food deserts—areas with less access to healthy and nutritious food. Our sleep can be impacted by our diet, so it’s probable that those eating less nutrient-rich diets are getting lower quality sleep. Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, Ana Krieger, confirmed this to NBC News BETTER and indicated that eating a nutrient-rich diet can affect brain health as well as sleep. Housing discrimination is also associated with environmental racism. People of color are more likely to live in areas with environmental hazards, which can be a contributing factor to sleep disparities. A 2019 study found that air pollution was associated with a reduction in sleep duration. Another study found that poor air quality was linked to heart and lung disease as well as sleep quality.

It is important to understand the antecedents of this issue in order to implement interventions. One powerful resource that has been created to encourage the intentional practice of rest is an organization called The Nap Ministry, which was founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey. The Nap Ministry emphasizes the importance of rest as a tool of resistance and community healing. Organizations like The Nap Ministry are critical for raising awareness about this important yet often ignored issue. More education about this issue is needed. Corporate leaders wondering how they can better support Black and brown employees should invest in organizations, tools, and resources that will improve the quality of sleep for employees. Continued guidance from sleep experts is one way that organizations can invest in the well-being of employees. This could range from inviting sleep researchers to the organization to provide strategies for better sleep quality to providing tools for employees to monitor and track their rest. Devices that allow employees to analyze sleep patterns can provide valuable insights for employees. Leaders should also be intentional about allowing employees from racially marginalized backgrounds to rest and recuperate.

When unpacking specific activities that leaders can engage in, a Harvard Business Review article asserts that the ability to “call in Black” can allow Black employees to cope, rest, and recover. It is also imperative to understand the systemic barriers that contribute to these racial sleep disparities and to remove these barriers wherever possible. Conduct frequent pay equity audits to ensure that employees of color are being paid fairly. Provide resources and tools that will better sleep duration and quality. Invest money in educating employees about these racial sleep gaps for better awareness and understanding. Lastly, consider including sleep specialists, nutritionists, and dietitians in your employee assistance program.
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Along with news, analysis and commentary from Tony Nitti, CPA.

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Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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