February is Black History Month for a reason. It is the birth month of two of the most important figures to the black community: Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and Frederick Douglass on the 14th. These two men lived in the same era, worked to empower African-Americans and remove the stigma of difference by supporting and espousing equality. With this in mind, historian Carter G. Woodson proposed first a Negro Week around their two birthdays in 1926 to encourage public schools to start teaching black history to students. It was a small victory that was picked up in 1969 to be turned into a full month by black teachers and students at Kent State and endorsed by President Gerald Ford at the U.S. bicentennial. What Gerald Ford did at that celebration was to urge Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
The incredible contributions of black Americans can be seen everywhere. From the cure for leprosy, saving lives with the gas mask, influencing the arts, and creating the legendary Super Soaker, a toy that has been in the Top 20 in sales and popularity year-over-year since its creation — and so much more — African-Americans have leapt over hurdles to continue in the face of adversity many of us could never even begin to imagine. We all know at Sleep Club that getting a good night’s rest is the secret sauce to feeding that big brain and incredible creativity. Well, in honor of Black History Month, we’d like to seize the opportunity to shine a light on something rather unique that deserves attention in the African-American community: the way of sleep.
A history of lost sleep
Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Sleep Foundation, African-Americans sleep almost a full hour less per night than Caucasian Americans. Minorities in general, actually, get less sleep than their white counterparts, but it would appear that the black community’s disparity is largest. These studies show the problem is nothing new and contributing factors aren’t surprising — working more hours and more jobs, living in lower income, louder and less safe neighborhoods, and the difference in activity levels before sleep.
It’s not just socioeconomic and neighborhood based. For whatever reason — and no one seems to know the definitive answer — Black Americans sleep more poorly than others in the U.S. They also suffer from more sleep related (or lack of sleep) illnesses and conditions than other humans in North America and this problem is something that needs to be dealt with and soon.
Low sleep, high risk
You already know how important sleep is to your overall health. We’ve shared before how consistent lack of slumber contributes to higher risks of diabetes, heart disease and mental disorders. In that list are two of the biggest illnesses that affect black Americans — diabetes and heart disease. And imagine… lost sleep contributes heavily to them both.
It has also been shown that African-Americans achieve a lower rate of slow wave rest than others. Slow wave is that time in your slumber when your body is rejuvenating from the day. There is a distinct shallowness to the rest gotten by blacks and it is causing a great deal of physical and mental issues.
Easier said than done
It’s easy to say how to get better sleep in a broad way, give tips, show what has worked and suggest someone turn off the blue lights, meditate, eat certain foods, turn the temperature down in your room and so on. We believe in all of those things, as you know, and we believe in them with every fiber of our collective being. But this brings up a point we also want to share: sleep issues are not created equal. In this discovery, it brings up two true, burning questions: How many of us know about this sleep issue in the Black community? And what can be done to help the African-Americans achieve better health through more satisfying rest?
While there is no simple fix to this silent, life-threatening brute — this exhausted, sleep deprived giant — there is another contributing factor to the black slumber disparity that’s easier to grasp: discrimination. African-American children as young as 2 years old experience issues with bedtime and teens are excellent barometers for measuring what they are dealing with not just through surveys but monitors like FitBits. The ways blacks are derided range from the subtle to the extreme and no matter how it is couched, those moments cause a deep-seated stress that lingers and affects — that’s right — sleep, rest, rejuvenation, restoration... life.
Sleep is more than a right. It is a literal physical requirement for every single living, breathing organism on this planet to survive. A good night’s sleep should never be viewed as a luxury or the domain of a fabled few, because it is a must have for all. Fighting for the right to get the rest your body needs to function at an optimal level seems surreal, doesn’t it? And yet, it is an actual reality and it is a cause worth championing. It’s a life-right we at Sleep Club believe in and support every chance we get, no matter who or what.
And so it is in this Black History Month we celebrate the incredible fortitude and brilliance of all who endure, persevere and excel against all odds. The restorative powers of slow wave may not be getting to work their magic on the group quite the way they deserve, but as with so many other things in the African-American experience, the rise above continues undaunted, unfettered and forever impressive.
We wish you perfect rest on cool nights after long days free of any obstacles to achieving that blissful state and share our desire to help make a world where we all can sleep in peace.