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New study finds Blacks sleep less, do more before bedtime

William Covington | 10/6/2010, 5 p.m.

The National Sleep Foundation's annual survey says African Americans get the least amount of sleep of any ethnic group, and the ability to change some of the causes of our sleep deprivation are within our control, if we make adjustments (sleep Hygiene).

At the same time, there also exist psycho-social stressors such as unemployment, poverty, and racism which we are unable to control.

Animals and Humans
"The only way to understand sleep is to study animals," says Jeromme Siegel, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Center for Sleep Research. "If we could better understand animal sleep, we would better understand the core aspects of sleep."

Sleep is a necessity, if a living organism is to survive and continue its species, says one of the basic laws of biology (continuation of species). Some organisms only require an average sleep time of 1.9 hours such as the giraffe or have the capability of sleeping decades, such as the minuscule 1.5 mm Tardigrade water bear with its eight legs. The Tardigrade can undergo a process called cryptobiosis, which enables it to sleep for decades; this allows the small animal to survive in hostile environments such as droughts. When Dolphins sleep, they float to the surface to exhale. There are also animals that sleep with one eye open to sense a predator before it strikes.

When we look at the human species, our sleeping habits may not be as diverse as the animals we share the planet with, but there are ethnic differences that might account for many things, according to a recent report by scientists involved in the study of sleep.

A peek inside the African American bedroom
When we think of sleep, we may have thoughts of laying down and eventually dosing off hopefully for at least eight full hours of shut eye. But if you are African American, a full night sleep is a rarity, according to the National Sleep Foundation and several universities participating in the March 2010 Sleep in America study. In addition to not getting enough sleep African Americans, also suffer from Parasomnia (disrupted sleep related-related event) also known as sleep paralysis (SP) at a higher level than any other ethnicity. Increased levels of psycho-social stressors, including poverty, racism, acculturation, genetic make up, and diet may contribute to higher rates of SP in Blacks.

The witch is holding down my chest (Sleep Paralysis)
There was no mention of sleep paralysis in the report, but it is a sleep disorder that has a very high occurrence within the African American community. Sleep paralysis (SP) is an altered state of consciousness experienced when falling asleep or awakening. Individuals experience paralysis and often feel a weight or pressure on their chest during episodes, and the duration typically ranges from a few seconds to a few minutes. People may experience vivid, frightening hypnogogic (hallucinations when falling asleep) or hynopompic (hallucinations when awakening) hallucinations (Hall, 1993; Ness, 1978). Individuals may also report experiencing panic-like symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, fear and intense emotional distress.