On Nov 14, nonprofit Project Sleep partnered with the White House Office of Public Engagement to host a Sleep Equity Convening, a first-of-its-kind meeting on sleep. Project Sleep brought sleep community leaders and advocates together with key White House officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for this important discussion. 

The conversation brought together leaders from 11 sleep-related organizations and featured a multidisciplinary panel of speakers including sleep equity researchers Michael A. Grandner, PhD, MTR, director, Sleep and Health Research Program, University of Arizona, and Robert W. Turner II, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Clinical Research and Leadership, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Science, and Julie Flygare, JD, president and CEO of Project Sleep, alongside sleep advocates, Lauren Thomas and Matt Horsnell

The meeting discussed sleep as a social justice issue. Highlighting ways we can advance sleep equity—where everyone has an equal opportunity, based on their need, to obtain an amount and quality of sleep that promotes physical and mental well-being. Due to current and historical injustices that have given rise to social, economic, and environmental inequalities, people from BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and other minoritized communities are more likely to get insufficient, poor quality sleep. Research shows that people from these groups are less likely to receive screening for sleep health issues, more likely to have sleep disorders, and more likely to remain undiagnosed and untreated for these disorders. 

Highlights from the Sleep Equity Convening

Grandner provided an overview of sleep equity, highlighting the many systemic challenges facing socio-economic disadvantaged and minoritized communities in accessing the right quantity, quality, and timing of sleep. He highlighted how sleep plays important roles in many areas of the body including the brain, heart, lungs, and muscles, and showed powerful data quantifying the economic impacts of sleep loss on our nation’s workforce. Lastly, Grandner shared exciting progress, with sleep recently being added to the American Heart Association’s heart health checklist!

Turner presented insights from his research to better understand Black American men’s understanding of sleep health and sleep apnea. He shared findings from the focus groups, highlighting barriers such as lack of awareness and distrust in medical professionals. Turner also spoke about the importance of peer-to-peer connections between Black men and how these relationships could benefit future sleep education interventions.  

Patient advocates were also given an important seat at the table. Sleep advocates Thomas and Horsnell shared powerful first-hand stories. “Even armed with a diagnosis, a supportive specialist, and a community, I continue to face barriers due to my race, gender, and condition,” Thomas shared. 

“Living in poverty has significant sleep health consequences,” Horsnell shared. “Due to inadequate healthcare and awareness of sleep disorders, my narcolepsy diagnosis was delayed thirteen years and my sleep apnea diagnosis was delayed five years. Those delays contributed to the onset of type 2 diabetes; a lifelong disease that could have been prevented with adequate healthcare.”

Their stories underscored how race, gender, and socioeconomic status can affect sleep and access to care.

Participating Organizations

The conversation brought together leaders from 12 sleep-related organizations, professional societies, and patient advocacy organizations including:

“This event was a powerful experience and unique opportunity to elevate the sleep community onto the national stage,” Flygare says. “The White House staff in attendance, representing various administrative offices, listened intently, and we’ve already participated in a second White House listening session with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure those living with sleep disorders have a seat at this table where powerful and important policies are shaped.”

Photos by MFIELDS Photography