Blacks are more likely than whites to sleep less than seven hours a night, and the sleep disparity is greatest in professional occupations, according to a study from Harvard School of Public Health that appeared in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers found that Black professionals had the highest prevalence of “short sleep” and white professionals had the lowest prevalence. “Short sleep” has been linked with an increased risk of health problems and even death.

“With increasing numbers of Blacks entering professional and management roles in numerous industries, it is important to investigate and address the social factors contributing to the short sleep disparities in Blacks compared with whites in general, and particularly in professional settings,” said lead author Chandra Jackson.

Researchers analyzed eight years of data from nearly 137,000 U.S. adults. Based on self-reports, 30 percent of the respondents were considered “short sleepers,” sleeping less than seven hours a night; 31 percent were “optimal sleepers,” sleeping about seven hours a night; and 39 percent were “long sleepers,” sleeping more than 7 hours a night.

After adjusting for factors such as age, demographics, health behaviors, physical activity, medical conditions, and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that among Black respondents, 37 percent were short sleepers, compared to 28 percent of whites.

Possible sleep-disrupting factors that affect Blacks more include job strain, discrimination or harassment in the workplace, limited professional and social networks providing emotional or financial support and long work hours.

In addition, Blacks are more likely than whites to do shift work, often at night, which can disrupt circadian rhythms and increase their appetite for sweet and salty foods. They are also more likely to live in urban neighborhoods with high noise levels at night.

It’s also possible that a strong desire to succeed against all odds could lead to stress, disrupted sleep and negative health effects.

Tips for better sleep

1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.

3. Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.

4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity.

5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep and free from any light. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.

6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is supportive.

7. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes or heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. Avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime.

8. Avoid using electronic devices before bed or in the middle of the night.

9. Take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment.

10. Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least seven hours of sleep.

Source: National Sleep Foundation

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