Sleep Health Disparities Research Can Be Improved, Experts Say
Recommendations from a 2018 workshop on the role of sleep in health disparities (SHDs) were published recently in the journal Sleep. Dr. Chandra Jackson, who holds a joint appointment at NIMHD and NIEHS, co-chaired the meeting and is the report’s first author.
The 2-day event was organized by NIMHD, NHLBI and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. Experts in health disparities and sleep shared insights from their respective fields and identified research gaps. Their recommendations addressed future studies and interventions.
“Inopportune exposure to light, noise, poor air quality and psychological stress can affect sleep health,” Jackson said. “Certain populations have been shown to be disproportionately exposed due to residential and labor market segregation.”
Those populations include racial and ethnic minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Jackson noted that the report’s recommendations could foster research that helps reduce disparities in sleep health. They include:
- Integrate health disparities and sleep research approaches. This suggestion was a key take-home message from the workshop, Jackson said. “Most sleep research has focused on biological pathways and mechanisms while largely ignoring [research participants’] sociocultural and physical environments,” the report states.
- Investigate the influence of SHDs on daily function, quality of life and social consequences. “Sleep deficiencies are related to increases in risk of serious accidents and injury at work and while driving; poorer cognition, social interactions and emotional functioning; [and] risk-taking behaviors,” wrote the authors.
- Train a diverse workforce to conduct transdisciplinary research on SHDs. According to the report, “Training workshops, educational courses and mentoring from experts in both sleep and health disparities can be used for future workforce development and may prevent unnecessary attrition of diverse researchers.”
The researchers also suggested addressing SHDs through such educational and social interventions as flexible work schedules and school start times that allow young students adequate sleep. The authors emphasized that interventions should be culturally appropriate.
“Our hope is that recommendations from this report are implemented by research and clinical communities. That could lead to major progress toward understanding and addressing sleep health disparities across the life course,” Jackson said.—Ernie Hood