It’s the second week of daylight savings time and I don’t know about you, but my friends are all still talking about sleep. Mostly they’re all talking about how little they get. “Sleep is the new sex,” etc etc.
There’s also a lot of media attention because it’s World Sleep Day.
In an earlier blog post I argued that sleep is a feminist issue. Women get less sleep than men, even though there’s some evidence we actually need more. Why do we get less sleep? The answers are sadly familiar. They are the same reasons women also get less time for sports and other leisure activities. Women as a group shoulder a greater percentage of dependent care responsibilities and housework. It’s part of the larger picture of the unfair division of work in the home. Something had to give and that thing is sleep.
Being well rested it turns out tracks power and privilege. Surprised? I’m not really.
Men, on balance, get more sleep than women, on balance. (Of course some women get lots of sleep and some men get nearly none. It’s the big picture we’re talking about here.) But sex isn’t the only relevant factor when it comes to power and privilege. In the case of sleep it may not even be the most important one. Race and income matter too. Here’s a report on sleep and the numbers.
A study of the sleep characteristics of 669 middle-aged adults found that people sleep much less than they should, and even less than they think. Published in the July issue in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study also found that blacks sleep less than whites, men sleep less than women, and the poor sleep less than the wealthy.
It’s not just a little bit less sleep either. Black Americans get a lot less sleep than white Americans. In fact, the difference in sleep quantity between the two groups may be enough to explain the difference in life expectancy between the two groups.
“The racial inequalities in the US are stark, but none are more damaging than the health gap between blacks and whites. On average, blacks die at a significantly younger age than whites.”
Here is a recent report on sleep differences between black and white Americans, Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People, Says Study
Thursday we learned something truly astonishing: White people, unburdened by racism, sleep pretty damn well.
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65 percent of Americans polled said they usually get at least seven hours of sleep per night, the benchmark recommendation. It’s self-reported data, not confirmed with any kind of tracking, but it’s fairly consistent with other estimates, the CDC says.
When the responses were broken down by race, they found that non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate of healthy sleep duration, at 66.8 percent. Close to 66 percent of Hispanics got seven-plus hours, as did 62.5 percent of Asians and 59.6 percent of Native Americans. Black people were at 54.2 percent, and multiracial people were at the bottom, with 53.6 percent. Overall, people who were employed and college-educated slept better, too.
Of course, most the media images of the underslept North American worker are of white, professional people. It’s reminding me of all the studies on stress which typically make their way into the media with images of men in suits attached. Stress is pictured as a disease of over achievers.
But the reality is quite different. Jobs that come without a lot of control are actually much more stressful. I’m reminded of my term serving as head of my academic department. Everyone asked if I found it stressful. The truth was that being in charge was much less stressful than being a regular colleague.
When I was a regular colleague I worried about decisions the Department Chair might make. When I was Chair, I didn’t worry about that all.
So as with stress, so goes sleep. It’s not the over-achieving powerful people who suffer the most. When it comes to sleep, black women get less sleep than white women and black men. It’s all about intersectionality. What’s that?
From the Geek Feminist Wiki, “Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”