Improving Sleep Equity for Black Americans

This Black History Month, we’re talking about sleep equity and how it relates to Black Americans. We defined sleep equity and sleep disparities, and discussed how racism affects sleep. So, what are some approaches to improving sleep equity for Black Americans?

Reducing Sleep Health Disparities in Black Americans

As a renowned leader in sleep disparities research, Girardin Jean-Louis, PhD has focused on addressing barriers to healthy sleep in minoritized populations through practical, culturally-tailored, community-based interventions for over 20 years. Guiding his work is the theory that sleep disparities are a significant contributor to racial health gaps in the U.S., and he has studied several approaches to reducing sleep health disparities in Black Americans. 


To dispense with health disparities or to help reach health equity, we have determined that not only do we have to appreciate what the barriers are, but also develop programs to overcome them.”

– Dr.  Girardin Jean-Louis, via NYU’s Dormancy project

With his Sleep Disparities Workgroup at NYU, Dr. Jean-Louis trained peer health educators to talk to Black community members about sleep apnea screening in New York City barber shops, salons, and places of worship. He emphasizes the importance of trust: “If the barber tells them, ‘Oh, I just did my screening and I think you should go too,’ they’re gonna go. If the pastor says, ‘I think all of my parishioners, all my congregants, should go get screening,’ guess what happens? They are more likely to go. Why? Credibility.” In this study, peer health educators helped to identify individuals at high risk for sleep apnea, and for those who received a diagnosis, the educators provided personalized support as the individuals started treatment. 

Demystifying and Destigmatizing Sleep Disorders

In other studies, Dr. Jean-Louis and his team examined the impact of culturally and linguistically-tailored sleep apnea education delivered by phone or online. Data from this research showed that Black people who receive convenient, relatable sleep apnea information are more likely to seek screening and feel more confident about treatment for sleep apnea.

These approaches demystify and destigmatize testing, diagnosis, and treatment for sleep disorders, and hold promise for the future of community-based sleep health initiatives. Dr. Jean-Louis says, “We now know to make sure we go into certain communities, make sure they’re comfortable talking about certain things, and therefore they [get treatment] to do better.” 

Working Towards a Better Future

Reaching individuals with health information they can relate to and use is one way to improve health equity. Pushing for equitable representation in the scientific and medical communities is another critical piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, Dr. Jean-Louis’ approach is twofold: conduct health equity research to reduce sleep disparities, and mentor students and fellows from underrepresented minorities in the behavioral medicine and sleep research fields. Through the Programs to Increase Diversity Among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research (PRIDE) Institute, he and his team have trained over 200 scholars, all of whom are now established educators, clinicians, and innovative scientists.

In recognition of his commitment to sleep medicine and fostering successful academic careers, Dr. Jean-Louis recently received two distinguished awards for diversity, equity, and inclusion from the Society for Behavioral Sleep Medicine and the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Dr. Jean-Louis credits all those he has worked with to make community-engagement sleep and circadian work possible, saying, “These are the unsung heroes of sleep health equity in minoritized communities.”

About Dr. Jean-Louis

Dr. Girardin Jean-Louis is a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami. He is the Director of the Center on Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences and the National Institutes of Health-funded Programs to Increase Diversity Among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research (PRIDE) Institute.

During Black History Month 2022, Project Sleep featured Dr. Jean-Louis in the Sleep Leaders series. Read Dr. Jean-Louis’s profile here.

During previous year’s Black History Month celebrations, we highlighted incredible accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans from across the sleep field—from scientists to advocates.

This year, Project Sleep is exploring the topic of sleep equity and how it affects Black Americans. Please join us by learning about and raising awareness of sleep equity!

Your Environment & Sleep Disparities Podcast

When talking about creating a healthy sleep environment, we often assume that things like light, temperature, safety, and our sleep schedules are all within our personal control. In this episode, Dr. Dayna Johnson talks about important and under-discussed factors influencing people’s ability to get a good night’s sleep and how policies can shape our individual behaviors, sleep, and overall health.

Sleep, Race, & Health Disparities Podcast

To learn about sleep disparities research and innovative approaches to improving sleep equity, listen to Sleep, Race, & Health Disparities – Sleep Insights Series Ep. 2 of The Project Sleep Podcast. In this episode, Dr. Michael Grandner provides an overview of sleep health disparities research, and Dr. Carmela Alcántara highlights a community engagement sleep intervention in the Spanish-speaking LatinX population.

Addressing sleep health disparities is a guiding principle of Project Sleep’s advocacy program. Read our commitment to social justice and sleep health equity here.

Black History Month is not only a time for recognition, but also an opportunity to reflect on progress yet to be made and to reaffirm our commitment to social justice and equity. Please stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to contact your Members of Congress to help advance our sleep health disparities policy recommendations.

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