sleep, Black Americans, police, killing

New Study Shows Black People Lose Sleep Over Police Killing Unarmed Black People

However, outside of this specific stressor, Black people typically get less sleep than white Americans on average, due to the racism baked into American society.

A new study published on Feb 5 in JAMA Internal Medicine, a medical journal, indicated that each time Black people are made aware of another unarmed Black person killed by the police, they are being robbed of a non-renewable resource: sleep.

The report disclosed an increase among Black adults in short sleep or nights with fewer than seven hours of sleep and concise rest – nights with fewer than six hours of sleep after being exposed to reports of “officer-involved killings.”

Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani, lead researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, explained, “These findings show that poor sleep health is another unfortunate byproduct of exposure to these tragic occurrences. Exposure of Black Americans to police violence – which disproportionately [affects] Black individuals – adversely impacts the sleep health of these individuals. This critical keystone further impacts our mental, physical and emotional well-being.”

During the study, researchers monitored and analyzed changes in sleep duration, which had been tracked via two federal surveys, linking those with available data on officer-involved killings around the country. They discovered that approximately 46% of Black adults experienced short sleep, and 18.4% of Black adults experienced very short sleep, compared to 33% of white respondents experiencing short sleep and 10.4% experiencing very short sleep.

Trouble sleeping or insomnia is often linked to PTSD, and the researchers hypothesize that the awareness of Black people dying at the hands of the police could lead to diminished expectations of well-being, paranoia, and hypervigilance, as well as increased stress levels, which have all been associated with a lack of sleep.

According to the study’s conclusion, “Sleep health among Black adults worsened after exposure to officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals. These empirical findings underscore the role of structural racism in shaping racial disparities in sleep health outcomes.”

However, outside of this specific stressor, Black people typically get less sleep than white Americans, on average, due to the racism baked into American society.

In 2022, during a panel discussion at the SLEEP 2022 conference, a panel of experts argued that race is not the reason Black and other people of color get less sleep, racism is. Benjamin Reiss, a professor and chair of the Department of English at Emory University, told the AJMC that it is the history of America that wreaks havoc on Black people’s ability to rest.

“The depressing, exhausting, and soul-killing aspects of enslavement, disenfranchisement, and poverty could simply be interpreted as an aversion to work, an inability to control the body’s urges, and the need for imposed discipline.” Reiss continued, “When we see sleep disparities today, we are also seeing the effects of history that lives on in the body. The centuries-long, oppressive conditions that produce disparities are created and justified by people who took their own access to comfort, safety, privacy, and hygiene for granted.”

According to Karen Lincoln, a professor of environmental and occupational health at UCI, sleep or more accurately, sleep irregularity, is another marker of the lack of equality in America for Black people.

“However, higher incomes, having a college degree, and living in neighborhoods with more resources [don’t] necessarily protect African Americans from poor sleep quality because they are still subjected to stressors linked to law enforcement, racism, work environments, families, and neighborhoods regardless of socioeconomic status. Racism rather than race is a marker of risk for sleep problems.” Lincoln concluded her analysis by saying, “To move forward, we must listen and address the issues African American residents, communities, and organizations have identified as problems and priorities. We must all acknowledge the past, raise awareness about the current state of affairs, and work together to improve the health and well-being of all communities of color.” 

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