The State of Latino Sleep

The average adult should sleep about 7-10 hours a day.

But a person may get more (or less) sleep depending on the season, according to a recent study from researchers in Berlin, Germany.

“Even in an urban population experiencing disrupted sleep, humans experience longer REM sleep in winter than summer and less deep sleep in autumn,” according to a news release about the sleep study. “In general, societies need to adjust sleep habits including length and timing to season, or adjust school and working schedules to seasonal sleep needs.”

This begs a few questions. What other factors impact sleep? Are Latinos affected differently?

Let’s explore the topic of sleep for Latinos, why it’s important, and factors that can impact it!

Sleep Can Differ Between Races and Ethnicities

More research is exploring how sleep is different among different races/ethnicities.

“Researchers studying health disparities point to a number of potential causes of the higher rates of sleeping problems for people of color,” according to the Sleep Foundation. “A common theme among many of these factors is higher levels of both physical and emotional stress.”

A 2015 study found that habitual snoring and polysomnography-measured sleep disorder breathing (SDB) were most common among Latinos.

The same study found that Latinos were 1.64 times as likely to report habitual snoring, 2.14 times as likely to have severe SDB, and 1.80 times as likely to have short sleep as compared with Whites.

“Short sleep duration was significantly more prevalent among Blacks, Hispanics, and Chinese as compared with Whites,” according to the study.

But the numbers aren’t perfect.

“Getting precise information about how much people sleep is complicated. Even though it’s not perfectly accurate, a great deal of data comes from self-reported levels of sleep quantity and quality,” according to the Sleep Foundation.

For example, a 2019 study highlights that Latinos are a heterogenous group, meaning it contains many different heritage groups from Mexican to Puerto Rican to South and Central America. Unfortunately, many studies include a general Hispanic or Latino racial/ethnic category without specifying the country of origin or heritage.

This can lead to mixed results when looking into specific groups within the Latino population.

“Specifically, while some studies have found that Other Hispanic/Latinos (those with non-Mexican ethnicity) had a 24–63% higher odds of self-reported shorter sleep duration (≤6 hours) compared to Whites, other studies did not document disparities in self-reported short sleep duration or mean total sleep duration between Mexican and Whites,” according to the study.

Latinos and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Racial/ethnic minorities also suffer a disproportionate amount of sleep issues.

For instance, Latinos report higher rates of sleeping problems, according to the Sleep Foundation. What kind of sleeping problems?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when something happens to the upper airway during sleep to obstruct the process of inhaling and/or exhaling.

Several factors can contribute to OSA including:

  • Relaxed tissues and muscles in the upper airway
  • Age
  • Medications
  • Sleeping position
  • The presence of fatty tissue in the throat area
  • General problems with fluid retention
  • Congenital issues with the structure of the jaw, the throat, or the nasal passages
  • The presence of excess tissue in the upper airway (oversized tongue, uvula, adenoids/tonsils)

“[OSA] has been found in 14 percent of Hispanic men and 6 percent of Hispanic women. The incidence of sleep deprivation, by whatever cause, is also measurably higher,” according to Sleep Resolutions.

OSA can also lead to serious chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Type 2 diabetes – issues that disproportionately impact the Latino population already.

The article notes common risk factors associated with sleep apnea including:

  • Snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Obesity

“Ultimately, the outcomes of studies based on Hispanic ethnicity have led researchers to take note: the risk factors for health problems in the US Hispanic population do not mirror those for the white population,” according to Sleep Resolutions.

Sleep Apnea Subtypes

A 2022 study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found 3 subtypes of sleep apnea that are linked to cardiovascular risks among Latinos – insomnia OSA, asymptomatic mild OSA, and symptomatic OSA.

Study results found that the insomnia OSA group had the highest average HDL cholesterol and were most likely to have prevalent stroke/ Transient ischemic attack (TIA) out of the three groups.

Individuals in this group also had the second-highest average total cholesterol and BMI.

The asymptomatic mild OSA group had the highest total cholesterol and were most likely to report alcohol consumption.

However, they were the less likely to report cardiovascular diseases including hypertension and diabetes.

The symptomatic OSA group had the worst cardiovascular health profile relative to the insomnia and asymptomatic mild OSA groups.

Individuals in this group had the highest average triglycerides and BMI. They were also most likely to be a former or current smoker and have prevalent CVD events, heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes.

“These findings will create further opportunities for better diagnosis and more tailored treatments for sleep apnea,” said Benson Wu, first author of the study and neuroscientist from the University of California San Diego, in a news article about the study.

Latinos and Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual doesn’t get enough sleep at night.

Sleep deprivation

Factors like bedtime habits and lifestyle choices can contribute to sleep deprivation. However, medical conditions, such as OSA, are perhaps the most common cause.

“OSA can cause sleep fragmentation, which breaks up the sleep architecture all night and leaves you with less efficient sleep. This can lead to sleep deprivation if you are awakened many times a night due to breathing lapses,” according to Sleep Resolutions.

Poor sleep habits in the Latino community are also attributed to assimilation to the United States and Americanized lifestyle for Latino immigrants, economic concerns, work stress, discrimination, family conflicts, environmental challenges, and social boundaries.

“Over time, sleep deprivation becomes sleep debt. And with sleep debt comes a host of health problems that can be very difficult to overcome,” Sleep Resolutions reported.

Sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences, being the cause of many  workplace accidents and car collisions that result from drowsy driving and functioning without adequate sleep.

“Compared to white participants, Hispanic participants were also nearly twice as likely to suffer from insufficient sleep,” according to Sleep Resolutions.

Resources for Healthy Sleeping

The CDC provides a multitude of resources to help people get better sleep through its National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, which serves to provide education and awareness of  obstructive sleep apnea.

Other resources are available for sleep education and sleep health. The National Sleep Foundation also covers a variety of sleep health topics on their website, along with research and statistics on sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also has resources for healthy sleep, information on sleep disorders, and patient support and treatment information for those with sleeping disorders.

“[AASM] is currently focused on improving access to sleep care, which will affect these minority communities that are disproportionately suffering from poor sleep and untreated sleep issues,” according to the AASM website.

Health in Your Community

What outside factors contribute to your health and the health of others in your area?

Find out using Salud America’s Health Equity Report Card!

The Report Card serves as a tool to see how your county is doing on a variety of health-related conditions like health care, transportation, and socio-economic status.

Compare the data from other county to other counties across the state and the nation.

Share your results with city representatives and school leaders to advocate for change in your community!




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