Sleep Beliefs May Vary Between Races, Study Finds

Attitudes toward sleep may differ by race, suggests a small new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania that delved into the sleep beliefs and behaviors of older women in the Philadelphia area.

Researchers found compared to white women, older black women in the study had more unhealthy sleep practices and attitudes.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Medical Association, included 36 black women and 29 white women with an average age of 69. Their views on sleep were assessed via questionnaires.

Overall sleep quality and daytime sleepiness did not differ between the races, which confirms a 2010 study also conducted by Michael Grandner, Ph.D., a psychiatry instructor and member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at UPenn, and his colleagues.

The new study showed that black women were more likely to nap during the day to combat daytime sleepiness. They were also more likely to engage in activities other than sleep while in bed, including eating, reading and watching TV. The black women in the study were also less likely to prioritize sleep, and more likely to believe sleepiness is correlated with laziness and bad habits.

Black and white participants did however, both possess an overall lack of understanding about how vital sleep is. Both groups tended to hold similar false notions that sleep is not connected to health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Both groups also admitted to rarely discussing sleep issues with their doctors.

“While they may be of different races, these women were of a common age and socioeconomic group, and live in the same neighborhood and may share many commonalities that would influence the ‘culture’ of sleep from their generation,” Grandner said in the statement.

Perhaps more important than the light this study shines on demographic differences in sleep patterns, is that there is a need for better sleep education across all races. “Sleep is an important part of health and functioning,” Grandner said in the statement, “and this research will help us better understand how to improve sleep in the real world."

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