News Stories

Insomnia is Racial

In the August 31st edition of the New York Times, Douglas Quenqua writes: "The idea that race or ethnicity might help determine how well people sleep is relatively new among sleep researchers. But in the few short years that epidemiologists, demographers and psychologists have been studying the link, they have repeatedly come to the same conclusion: In the United States, at least, sleep is not colorblind. "

Non-Hispanic whites get more and better-quality sleep than people of other races, studies repeatedly show. Blacks are the most likely to get shorter, more restless sleep.

"What researchers don’t yet know is why."

Quenqua quotes sleep researcher Michael A. Grandner as saying, "We’re not at a point where we can say for certain is it nature versus nurture, is it race or is it socioeconomics," but when it comes to sleep, "there is a unique factor of race we’re still trying to understand."

Sleep researcher Mercedes R. Carnethon thinks a lot of it comes down to the places where people live. He quotes her as saying, "The blacks and Hispanics in our study were generally living in neighborhoods that are closer to freeways, so you have freeway noise, there's more business noise at night, and there's potentially more crime, which is stressful to people."

Quenqua quotes researcher Michael Grandner as saying, "There’s an effect of socioeconomics, but it's not really the economic. It's more about the socio."

Researcher Kristen Knutson agrees. Quenqua quotes her as saying that "there are more subtle differences" among people than income and education. "We had no way to control for stress, and there are social stresses an African-American man might feel that a white man with the same income and education level wouldn't."

Can millions of kids all be sick? Diagnoses of attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children has increased dramatically recently, but this may not be the epidemic it seems to be--these kids may not be getting enough sleep--and minority kids don't get as much sleep as white kids, because they live in more crowded conditions and don't have the same structured bedtimes. They ALSO have more ADHD.

And if YOU have trouble sleeping in middle age, you could be more likely to get Alzheimer's disease later in life, meaning it may be good to treat sleep problems early, before brain deterioration sets in.

In the April 17th edition of the New York Times, Kate Murphy quotes sleep researcher Merrill Wise as saying, "No one is saying ADHD does not exist, but there's a strong feeling now that we need to rule out sleep issues first" because the symptoms of sleep deprivation in kids--such as moodiness and obstinacy, trouble sitting still and getting along with other kids--resemble the symptoms caused by lack of sleep.

It turns out that the drugs used to treat ADHD, like Ritalin, can even CAUSE insomnia.

Murphy quotes neurologist Ronald Chervin as saying, "We're getting closer and closer to a causal claim" between breathing problems during sleep and ADHD symptoms in children.

She quotes family medicine specialist Karen Bonuck as saying, "Lack of sleep is an insult to a child's developing body and mind that can have a huge impact."

Meanwhile, neurologist Yo-el Ju Ju and team member David Holtzman discovered that depriving mice of sleep causes a 25% increase in the levels of a protein fragment called amyloid beta in the brain. Amyloid beta is the main ingredient in the amyloid plaques that clog the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

On LiveScience.com, Stephanie Pappas quotes neurologist Yo-el Ju as saying, "If sleep is found to affect either the beginning or the progression of Alzheimer's disease, especially in its early stages, then it's really an attractive thing to try to manipulate, because getting more sleep or better sleep has really no risk."

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