When it comes to snoozing, we know that age makes a difference, with kids needing more sleep than adults. But does ethnicity matter? Recently, the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., conducted a survey looking at just that issue. The survey asked 1,000 whites, African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics between the ages of 25 and 60 about their sleep and bedtime routines. Survey results showed that while all groups report that they don’t get enough sleep, there were interesting differences among the ethnicities.
First, the similarities. In each of the four groups, six out of 10 individuals reported not getting enough sleep. (Hardly a surprise.) The average number of hours spent sleeping varied less than an hour from one ethnicity to the next, with Caucasians getting an average of six hours and 52 minutes a night. African Americans reported about 40 minutes less, at 6 hours and 14 minutes. Asians and Hispanics were in the middle, reporting averages of six hours and 48 minutes and six hours and 34 minutes respectively.
The chief differences among the groups resided in what kept them up late, versus what put them to sleep. Asians, for example, were the least likely to watch TV within one hour of bedtime every night (or almost every night) and were much more likely than the other groups to be on the computer or the Internet during The Late Show. Blacks were much more likely than the other groups to report praying or doing other religious activity within one hour of bedtime, and Hispanics were much more likely than the other groups to be completing household chores during the hour before bed. Asians were the least likely of the groups to report consuming alcohol within one hour of bedtime.
Sexual activity before bed also varied among the groups. Ten percent of African Americans reported having sex before bed almost every night, compared to four percent of whites and only one percent of Asians. On the other hand, in all ethnic groups, a significant percentage reported often being too tired for sex. And who slept with whom (or what) also differed. Whites were most likely to sleep with a pet (16 percent, versus only two percent of Blacks and four percent of Asians); and 72 percent of whites reported sleeping with their significant other, a far higher percentage than in other groups. Among Hispanics, 54 percent slept with their significant other, compared to only 48 percent of Asians and African Americans. On the other hand, Hispanics and Asians were more likely than the others to share a bedroom with their children.
Interestingly, a segment within each ethnic group did report getting a good night’s sleep almost every night. These respondents, and particularly the African Americans among them, were more likely than those who did NOT report having a good night’s sleep to have done one of the following activities almost every night within an hour of going to bed: praying or engaging in some religious practice, listening to the radio or music, having sex, or exercising. Of these activities, the biggest help, by far, seemed to be engaging in religious practice.
As for what kept the respondents from being able to snooze, the survey found that about 20 percent of African-Americans, Whites, and Hispanics reported money worries as keeping them up at night, versus only nine percent of Asians. More African Americans also reported that what kept them up was worrying about losing their jobs, while more Hispanics lost sleep over health concerns. African Americans had more sleep apnea than other groups, and Whites reported the most insomnia, while Asians were the least likely to discuss sleep problems with a doctor. Thomas J. Balkin, Ph.D., chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, said, “A significant proportion of all ethnic groups are experiencing sleepiness that impacts their day to day living.” Balkin also said that most people require seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested.
Although, it’s hardly news that people aren’t getting enough sleep, the nine hour figure seems a bit high, especially considering that studies have shown that sleeping more than seven hours a night may be as deadly as not sleeping enough.
The experts put forth the usual tips for getting a good night’s sleep: leave worries at work, avoid alcohol, don’t eat right before bed, and so on. An interesting twist was offered by Dr. Frisca Yan-Go, MD, who directs the Sleep Disorders Center at Santa Monica-University. She explains that the reason it’s important to turn off the computer and TV a few hours before sleep is that, “The brightness will inhibit melatonin — it only secretes during darkness.” Melatonin is a hormone that is essential to sleep and a healthy immune system.
What’s more interesting, perhaps, is to take all the information gleaned from the study and form a composite picture of what makes for a good night’s sleep, regardless of ethnicity. Given that Caucasians get the most sleep of all the groups, and that Caucasians tend to sleep with a partner and a pet and no kids, there’s a clue. In fact, it would seem that the recipe for a good night’s sleep would be to kick out the kids and install a partner in the bed, pile on a poodle or a beagle and a cat or two, do a prayer session, have sex while listening to music, win the lotto so you don’t have to worry about money, and turn off the computer and the TV…and then tuck in.