The Truth About Sleep: Are You Getting Enough of It?

etting a good night's rest is just as important as eating right and exercising. It is a vital component to maintaining mental and physical health, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over a quarter of Americans report not getting enough of it.

Insufficient sleep, and the racial disparities that accompany it, is a health concern that keeps popping up on the radar of Public Health studies. Earlier this year, Sleep Medicine Reviews published an article online that found that "sleep duration in America has gradually declined over the last four decades and has plateaued at an average sleep duration of approximately six hours a night." And in September, The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that found that in addition to 30 percent of study participants self-reporting that they get less than seven hours of sleep a night, blacks working in professional and management-level positions were more likely to report short sleep durations than their white counterparts.

The Facts

Dr. Timothy Roehrs, director of research at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center, says that most people need eight hours of sleep a night "and as you get older, you need somewhat less sleep."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention links insufficient sleep to car accidents, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational malpractices. The CDC's Feature webpage says, "Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity." 

Some treat sleep as a priority and those that don't should know that the body and mind rely heavily on sleep to stay healthy. According to The Better Sleep Council, during sleep, the brain recharges, cells repair themselves and the body releases important hormones. Better sleep, The Better Sleep Council notes, "…refreshes us like nothing else. It can be occasionally elusive, almost always comforting, and definitely essential to our survival."


According to Terry Cralle, a sleep health and wellness professional, sleep deprivation may impair learning, memory, alertness, concentration, judgment, problem solving, and reasoning. "To make matters worse, lack of sleep hinders your ability to realize that your own performance is impaired, making you think you're functioning well when you probably aren't."

Racial Disparities

In September, the online American Journal of Epidemiology published an article chronicling sleep differences between the black and white populations across various occupations and industries.

Yerby postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, Dr. Chandra Jackson says, "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."

From 2004-2011, researchers collected data from close to 137,000 American adults, 13 percent of which were black, who participated in a National Health Interview Survey on short sleep duration. The survey found that 30 percent of the respondents were short sleepers, getting less than seven hours of sleep per night.

Researchers then found that black workers in general, and black professionals in particular, were more likely than their white counterparts to report short sleep duration. Of the black workers surveyed, 38 percent reported to be short sleepers compared to 27 percent of white workers.

After taking a deeper look into different industries and positions, the study found that with all industries combined, 42 percent of blacks working in professional and management positions were more likely to experience short sleep than their white counterparts at 26 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study credits this difference in sleep duration to multiple factors including job strain, discrimination or harassment in the workplace, limited control over job demands, long work hours, and a phenomenon known as John Henryism, which is a strategy for coping with prolonged exposure to stresses by expending high levels of effort, which results in accumulating physiological costs.

Getting better sleep

Dr. Valentina Gumenyuk, part of the sleep research team at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center, gave some insight to healthy sleep practices:

  • Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable in temperature
  • No TV, phone or computer should be in the bedroom
  • Bed should be only for sleep
  • No food or games
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and comfortable pillows
  • Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine including soft drinks and chocolate at least four to five hours before bedtime; it will keep you awake
  • Avoid nicotine; used close to bedtime, it can lead to poor sleep
  • Exercise regularly but avoid exercise activity two to three hours before bedtime

Dr. Vicki Johnson-Lawrence, social epidemiologist at the University of Michigan-Flint's Department of Public Health and Health Sciences, says that in order to get better sleep, it is important to get to bed earlier if there is a set time to wake up in the morning. See her tips below:

  • Shift errands to other days if they keep you from going to bed
  • Avoid over scheduling your time-you may love to help others and stay up late doing so, but this jeopardizes your body
  • Don't keep your kids up late either-children need more sleep than adults, and children mimic poor sleep habits
  • Be physically active at least 30minutes a day. Not only will it improve your physical health, but it will expend additional energy and may help the body be more relaxed at bedtime

Insufficient sleep is a growing health concern across the country. Improve your health by sleeping more because, according to Lawrence, "Sleeping rejuvenates our bodies, prepares us to be efficient every day, and helps us think clearly as we make decisions."

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