March 9, 2010 -- Sleep problems and sleep habits vary among different ethnic groups, according to a new national survey. But among all ethnicities, there remains a common denominator. Many of us simply don't get enough sleep.
"We found that all groups are sleep deprived," says Meir Kryger, MD, past chair of the board for directors for the National Sleep Foundation, which conducted the survey. Kryger is director of research and education at the Gaylord Sleep Disorders Center in Wallingford, Conn., and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington.
According to the survey, about one-third of respondents in all groups say they get less sleep on workdays and weekends than they need to feel their best.
The foundation issues a sleep survey annually, but the 2010 survey is its first to focus on sleep habits and different ethnicities. "We didn't know if our [previous] survey did justice to the fact there may be different cultural effects," Kryger says.
To reflect these tough economic times, this year's survey also includes questions about stress caused by finances and jobs and the potential effects on sleep.
The 2010 Sleep Survey Findings
For the survey, 1,007 adults, 25 to 60, were questioned by telephone in interviews of about 16 minutes. The sample was equally divided among whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.
All answered questions about sleep habits, attitudes, and problems.
Some findings crossed ethnic lines, such as:
- All groups said they missed work or family functions sometimes because they were too sleepy, with the percentage ranging up to 24%.
- Three-fourths or more of each of the four ethnic groups know that poor sleep is linked with health problems.
- Among married people or cohabitating couples, all ethnic groups reported often being too fatigued for sex, with about one in five saying sleepiness thwarted their sex lives.
The Sleep Survey, by Ethnicity
Beyond those findings that seem to hold for all respondents, Kryger says the study found some distinct differences.
- On weekdays or workdays, blacks reported they slept the least -- 6 hours, 14 minutes, compared to 6 hours, 34 minutes for Hispanics, 6 hours, 48 minutes for Asians, and 6 hours, 52 minutes for whites.
- Ten percent of blacks and 10% of Hispanics report having sex every night or nearly every night in the hour before bedtime, compared to 4% of whites and 1% of Asians.
- Blacks had different pre-bedtime activities and tended to pray in the hour before bedtime, Kryger says. ''Seventy-one percent of black people polled said they prayed,” he said. “But only 18% of Asians."
- Asians are least likely to drink alcohol an hour before bed -- a practice that many mistakenly think will help sleep. Only 1% of Asians had a nightcap every night or nearly every night, compared to 7% of whites, 4% of blacks, and 4% of Hispanics.
- Hispanics polled are more likely than other groups to say health-related concerns disturb their sleep at least a few nights a week -- 16% of Hispanics, compared to 12% of blacks, 9% of Asians, and 7% of whites.
- Whites are most likely to sleep with their pets -- as well as more likely to sleep with their spouse or significant others. Sixteen percent of white respondents say they sleep with a pet, and 72% say they sleep with their partners. In comparison, only 4% of Asians, 4% of Hispanics, and 2% of black people let the pet on the bed. But the space isn't always saved for a spouse or partner, apparently. Only 48% of blacks and Asians sleep with a ''significant other," and 54% of Hispanics.
- Recession-related stresses affected sleep to different degrees, with Hispanics and blacks more affected than whites or Asians.
How can you improve your sleep? Based on the survey findings, Kryger offered advice for each ethnic group:
- Black people may need more awareness of sleep apnea symptoms. The condition, in which a person stops breathing for brief periods during sleep, can be serious. Daytime sleepiness and snoring are among the symptoms.
- Asians should consider bringing up sleep problems with their doctors, he says, as they were the least likely to do that in the survey.
- Hispanic people were most likely to say health-related concerns disturb their sleep, and Kryger suggests they, too, discuss the issues with their doctor.
- White people take sleep aids more often than other groups, Kryger says, and they should consider alternatives to prescription sleeping pills, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Improving Sleep Habits
Nothing in the survey surprises Frisca Yan-Go, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Santa Monica-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital and professor of neurology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. She reviewed the survey findings for WebMD.
“It reflects the problems of patients I see," she says of the survey.
Although all ethnic groups can improve sleep habits, Yan-Go sees a bright spot: People's awareness of the importance of sleep has improved, she tells WebMD. To have even better sleep habits, she tells people to compute their sleep needs while on vacation. "See how many hours of sleep you need to feel good the next day," she says.
Among her other tips:
- Stay away from the television and computer two hours before bedtime if they are very bright. "The brightness will inhibit melatonin -- it only secretes during darkness," she says. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.
- Don’t take your work problems home.
- Consider a ''de-stress'' period between work and home. Yan-Go says a 15-minute power nap -- even if it's in the car before driving home -- can make a big difference in how well you sleep that night.