From [HERE] On May 8, campus police officers at Yale University responded to a call from a white graduate student about a black graduate student, whom she said was unknown to her and sleeping in the common room. For many, the incident was further evidence that African Americans are targets of harassment even in communities that are ostensibly their own, but the interaction is also a window into another, less-publicized disparity: It’s likely that, over the course of their lifetimes, white students have slept hundreds of hours more than black students.
According to a forthcoming paper by Tiffany Yip, a psychology professor at Fordham University, the sleep gap between white and nonwhite students begins with children as young as 2 years old — and it grows from there. What starts as a 15 minutes-a-day sleep deficit in childhood eventually becomes almost an hour a night in adulthood.
But it isn’t just a difference of time. According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have insomnia, sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness. In addition, they spend 15 percent of their night in deep sleep (considered the most restorative phase), compared with Caucasians’ 20 percent.
Lauren Hale, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, calls the sleep gap “a matter of social justice” and identifies two other significant predictors in addition to race: level of education (those without a high school diploma are more likely to have sleep disorders) and neighborhood context (city dwellers typically sleep less than those outside the urban core). Hale says of her findings, “If the very people who are the most socially disadvantaged and most need that extra boost to function better during their days wake up the least prepared, then they are at a disadvantage throughout every aspect of their day.”
Of course, race is also intertwined with education levels, Zip code and other factors that impede a restful night’s sleep, such as crowding and cigarette smoking in the home and living in a higher-crime neighborhood. But, Yip says, “there are still independent effects of race that go above and beyond socioeconomic effects.”
To study the sleep gap among adolescents, Yip recruited 146 participants from five public high schools in New York City. For two weeks a year, the freshmen self-reported their sleep length and quality, as well as their experiences of discrimination. In addition, they wore a wristband that tracked their activity 24 hours a day.
Using teenagers was especially helpful for Yip’s research because adolescence is typically when our brains develop enough to be able to form a racial identity. Yip says, “Seeing discrimination in the world as it happens to people of different racial, ethnic groups, as it happens to people in your own racial, ethnic groups, as it starts to happen to friends and family members and as well as yourself — all of those things require a pretty sophisticated cognitive understanding.”
As teenagers start to process these events, they become more sensitive to discrimination, whether it’s a major traumatic event, such as not getting fair housing, or whether it’s a more mundane event, sometimes called a microaggression, such as an African American being complimented for being “very articulate.” [MORE]