While sleep is something we all do, it turns out how much of it we get holds more consequences than determining how many cups of coffee are required the next morning.
Auburn researchers are finding sleep to be a factor in health disparities between white and black Americans, specifically the prevalence of different cardiometabolic risks, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.
David Curtis, a doctoral candidate in the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University, along with Professor Mona El-Sheikh and Associate Professor Thomas Fuller-Rowell, is carrying out and writing up sleep studies with the help of other researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their study will appear in the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences.
“I’m interested in sleep because it's influenced by one’s social context,” Curtis said. “For individuals who experience a lot of stress, it could be economic stress, it could be discrimination, it could be violence or fear of threat, they might have a harder time falling asleep or might wake up more regularly.”
The research was started in a national study of health called “Midlife in the United States” and gathered sleep data from 426 adult participants in Madison, Wisconsin who were equipped with accelerometers, a device akin to a FitBit.
According to Curtis, these devices recorded participant’s sleep activity over a weeklong period to test how much they were sleeping and how high quality that sleep was on average.
Researchers also tested participants’ biomarkers like blood pressure, cholesterol, hba1c and inflammatory markers that indicate risk for subsequent cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“We know from prior literature that black adults have lower triglyceride levels and higher hdlc, which gives them an advantage to white adults in that case,” Curtis said. “But in all other markers that we looked at, black adults had an elevated risk whether it was blood pressure or hba1c.”
Once Auburn received the results, Curtis said they compared them to socio-economic factors and posed the question “is sleep still associated with these various biomarkers and does it explain the differences we find between black and white adults?”
After replicating the results in a second study, the Auburn researchers found that sleep patterns explain approximately half of the racial gap in cardiometabolic risk.
“Black adults lose around a year of life on average just as a result of elevated cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke," Curtis said. "That’s a huge amount of life lost. We really need to nationally consider sleep because most of our big efforts to reduce this gap don’t really consider it at all.”