MANY PEOPLE HAVE TROUBLE sleeping when they’re stressed out or feeling anxious, so it’s not entirely shocking that people who are discriminated against do as well. New research claims that people discriminated against are more likely to suffer from sleep issues than people who aren’t, and those issues can build up over time and lead to larger health problems.
This correlation has been suggested and studied before, but the newest study on the topic used both subjective and objective measures, which makes it a lot more compelling.
Researchers looked at information from 361 adults, which they self-reported, on both discrimination and their sleep habits. Discrimination was defined as anything that made people feel like they were in danger or being held back from certain opportunities because of who they are, but included things like receiving bad service in comparison to other people.
The participants also wore activity trackers that clocked information about their sleeping habits, like how quickly they fell asleep, how many times they woke up during the night, and how much sleep they were getting overall.
What the researchers found was that the participants who reported being discriminated against in both small or large ways had a 12 percent higher risk of having sleep issues. On average, it took them 7 more minutes to fall asleep at night, and they spent 11 more minutes awake during the night than people who did not report being discriminated against.
The study did control for control for gender, education, age, BMI, diabetes status, smoking status, sleep disorders, and other mental health disorders, but it did not control for noise or other things that could potentially be keeping people awake. The most obvious conclusion, though, is that it’s incredibly stressful to be discriminated against no matter who you are or what you’re doing. We all know how effective stress is at popping up as racing thoughts in the night when we’re not otherwise distracted.
The problem with ongoing sleep disruptions is that they contribute heavily to emotional stress, as well as cause physical health problems. When we don’t get enough sleep, levels of stress hormones like cortisol rise in our bodies, which can negatively affect our hearts, weight, mood, skin — pretty much every aspect of health, when you get down to it.
One reason why this finding is important is that it suggests that when people are being evaluated for psychological stressors in their lives, discrimination should be looked at, in addition to more commonly assumed issues like relationships and money.
As if those alone aren’t stressful enough.