What Are Sleep Disparities?

This Black History Month, we’re talking about sleep equity and how it relates to Black Americans. Last week, we defined sleep equity. Building on this topic, let’s discuss sleep disparities.

Sleep disparities are differences in sleep health, divided along group lines, which do not reflect underlying biological causes but social ones.

Sleep disparities stem from complex, entrenched social problems such as racism, poverty, stigma, and inequitable access to healthcare. Due to current and historical injustices that give rise to social, economic, and environmental inequalities, people from BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and other minoritized communities are more likely to get insufficient, poor-quality sleep. Some research also shows that people from these groups are:

  • more likely to have sleep disorders
  • less likely to receive screening for sleep health issues
  • more likely to be undiagnosed and untreated for sleep disorders

Since sleep plays important roles in cardiovascular function, metabolism, immunity, mental health, and brain function, this sleep disparity creates a situation where many of our community members are systematically set up for worse overall health outcomes.

Not only does poor sleep lead to worse outcomes on its own, it interacts with other conditions, worsening the already-important problems associated with stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, depression, and other medical conditions. 

Sleep isn’t just a biological process, it’s a process that occurs in context of the world.

– Dr. Michael Grandner, clinical psychologist

As an organization dedicated to sleep health and sleep equity, Project Sleep joins many sleep and behavioral medicine researchers and sleep health advocates who urgently emphasize the role of sleep disparities as a direct contributor to overall health disparities.

Sleep equity is a critical part of our mission. More to come about approaches to addressing sleep disparities in our community!

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.

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!

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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