Black people in the United States are more likely than white people to report that they do not sleep much, research shows. On average, they live in louder neighborhoods, work longer hours and pick up more late-night shifts — concerning to public health experts, since sleep deprivation is linked to chronic health issues and early death.
But a group of public-health researchers from multiple universities and the National Institutes of Health wondered whether unequal exposure to police violence could also be contributing to racial sleep disparities, since those events are known to increase hypervigilance, worry and post-traumatic stress. They designed a pair of complex studies to measure how police killings of unarmed Black people affected sleep among Black and white people over time. The results were published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Black people were consistently more likely to report harmfully low levels of sleep after such a killing than they did before it occurred, the researchers found, regardless of whether the killing was a nearby event or a high-profile incident captured in media. The researchers did not find substantial impacts on sleep among white people in either case.
Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani, an associate professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, was a co-author of the studies. He said the findings reflected “the general human tendency to interpret events — and disparities in events — in ways that apply to you, and your future, and your family’s future.”
Dr. Venkataramani’s lab, the Opportunity for Health Lab, uses statistical data to investigate the relationship between economic opportunity and health outcomes. He said that standard health questionnaires and clinicians, including himself, tended to ask patients about behavioral risk factors but that “we don’t really collect data with these kinds of timely social exposures in mind.”
“We’re never really asking, ‘Hey, did you see something on the news that made you kind of rethink your position in society or how you feel about your future?’” he said.