Study: Professional Blacks Sleep Less Than White Counterparts

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If you’ve ever lost sleep over perceived or objective job discrimination you are not alone.

A study by the Harvard School for Public Health has found that stress causes African-American workers to lose hours of restorative sleep compared to their White coworkers and the disparity was widest among those who held professional occupations, the Houston Forward Times reports.

A lack of sleep can lead to a series of chronic health issues, including high-blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease – diseases that are prevalent in the African-American community. It can also lead to death, the study says.

“Racial Disparities in Short Sleep by Occupation and Industry,” published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, studied eight years of data from the National Health Interview Survey, which polled 137,000 adults from 2004 to 2011. Respondents worked in a variety of industries, including finance, real estate, health care, and construction. Their mean age was 47, with 50 percent being women and 13 percent being Black.

“Blacks were more likely to report short-sleep duration than Whites, and the Black disparity was widest among those who held professional occupations,” the 10-page report, which was published online in September 2013, states.

More than one-third of Blacks sleep less than seven hours per night. The report shows that 37 percent of Black workers in the support industry were “short sleepers” or those who sleep less than seven hours each night, compared to only 28 percent of Whites who slept fewer than seven hours each night.

Those working in professional or management positions were also more likely to experience short sleep than Whites. An estimated 42 percent of Blacks experienced short sleep compared to 26 percent of White workers, the study found.

Optimal sleep is seven hours per night, which is associated with the lowest levels of morbidity, poor health, and mortality or death. Long sleep is considered more than seven hours per night.

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 short sleep disparities in Blacks, compared with Whites in general, and particularly in professional settings,” wrote the study’s lead author Chandra Jackson, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Indeed, African Americans complain that they face greater job scrutiny than their White colleagues. Black workers say they are frequently isolated because some of their White coworkers fail or refuse to communicate with them. And if there is communication, the conversations are likely racially tinged.

Even President Barack Obama said recently that people dislike him as president because he’s Black, “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a Black President,” Obama told the New Yorker in an interview in its January 27th issue. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some Black folks and maybe some White folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a Black President.”

But the difference between President Obama and the average worker is that he was elected – twice. Most African-American workers fear losing their jobs, causing them to lose sleep.

The report shows that 37 percent of Blacks who worked in support services were more likely to experience short sleep cycles, compared to 26 percent for Whites. And estimated 35 percent of Black laborers experienced short sleep, compared to 32 percent of White workers, the report shows. The retail and the food industries were the only industries where Blacks and White had similar rates of short sleep.

“Short sleep generally increased with increasing professional responsibility within a given industry among Blacks but decreased with increasing professional roles among Whites,” the report shows. “Our results suggest the need for further investigation of racial/ethnic differences in the work-sleep relationship.”

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