An excellent guest post on Ryan Hurd’s Dream Studies website by A.L. Castonguay looks at sleep as a misunderstood public health issue. Specifically, who in America is sleeping relatively well, and who is sleeping poorly? The latter group is important to identify because inadequate sleep can lead to physical, emotional, and cognitive problems–not to mention disrupted, diminished dreaming.
Castonguay draws upon data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on sleeplessness in the US to discuss factors of age, region, employment status, and obesity, among other demographic variables. Castonguay’s analysis shows that people who most often report sleeplessness, “defined as insufficient sleep (less than 7 hours per night) on more than 14 days within the past 30, are predominantly people of color…between the ages of 25-44, unable to work, and obese.”
These findings raise a number of questions about the cultural and behavioral influences on sleep. I have also found in previous research that poor sleep corresponds to economic anxieties and employment concerns (e.g., Chapter 5, “Work and Money,” of American Dreamers). I just received data from a new demographic survey of American adults, and a quick scan of the results point in the same direction–people at the lower end of the income scale sleep worse than people at the top end.
The obesity figures are striking, especially when shown on a regional map of the US. The Southern part of the US has the highest proportion both of people who are obese and who get insufficient sleep. We don’t know what’s cause and effect, but it seems there’s a strong and dynamic relationship between the two problems.
It turns out that the states with the lowest relative frequencies of insufficient sleep are California, Oregon, and the Dakotas. Who knew?
One point Castonguay doesn’t mention that intrigues me is the relatively good sleep of Asians and Hispanics compared to other people of color (Black, American Indian, Multiracial). The number of participants in these racial/ethnic groups may be low and thus less statistically representative, but the figures are consistent with hints I’ve found in my own research.
If, as the topline results indicate, culture plays a role in quality of sleep, we need a lot more detailed information about how individual people’s sleep experiences are shaped by the multiple strands of cultural influence, including ethnic background, economic status, education, family life, and eating behaviors.