Minority and low-income communities face a sleep gap that could potentially be driving higher disease prevalence, according to a journal article in The Lancet Neurology

Lead author Girardin Jean-Louis, PhD, addresses how sleep disparities may impact health in minority communities. People in these groups face higher risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions, and lack of sleep may help drive these disparities.

“Black and Latino people in the US sleep around 30 to 60 minutes less [per night] than white people,” says Jean-Louis, who directs the Center for Translation Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in a news release. “In the past, this has been treated as a statistical anomaly that had to be accounted for in the models. It’s only in the past 20 years that we’ve recognized how important this sleep deficit can be to overall health.”

In some cases, the sleep gap among minority and low-income populations is systemic, says Jean-Louis, noting that many low-income people have trouble accessing healthcare because they cannot afford it. Other issues can engulf entire neighborhoods, like extensive noise, light, and particulate pollution, which can hamper sleep.

Social and cultural factors also influence how (and whether) people seek care for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Because many people aren’t willing to go to the hospital for a sleep test, the Center for Translation Sleep and Circadian Sciences is now conducting sleep studies in people’s homes. 

But many people are unaware they even have the condition.

“I have many patients who come in because their husband or wife says they snore and have to sleep on the couch,” says Jean-Louis in the release. “When I ask them if they do snore, they say, ‘No, not at all.’ But when I do the sleep study in the clinic, they may stop breathing 20 to 30 times per hour of sleep—significant sleep apnea.”

Jean-Louis says people must recognize the problem before they seek care and that interventions like informational brochures targeted at all communities and community engagement can help educate people. Other interventions, like clinicians treating sleep issues more aggressively and changes within cities—such as light restrictions, noise curfews, and more green space—also are necessary, he says. 

The journal article notes that “further research is urgently needed for the implementation of interventions to improve sleep among minority racial and ethnic groups with chronic illnesses.”

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