Even our sleep habits are divided across racial lines

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one third of Americans are getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. Those Americans are overwhelmingly minorities, specifically, non-Hispanic blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, or multiracial. That’s a problem, considering how much sleep deprivation affects health and judgment.

To determine American’s sleep patterns, the CDC used the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey, to analyze the habits of more than 444,000 adults throughout the United States. This week, the CDC reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that overall, 65.2% reported healthy sleeping habits. The CDC breaks down the numbers, overall and then for the under-65 population. Of all respondents, 11.8% said the slept five or fewer hours per night, 23% said they slept for 6, 29.5% said 7 and 27.7.% said 8. Just 4.4% said they sleep for nine hours each night (the CDC recommends between 7-8 hours per night) and 3.6% said they sleep for 10 or more hours each night.


Once the CDC adjusted for age (the over-65 population sleeps more on average,) they found a troubling racial breakdown: Just 53.7% of Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders said they got the right amount of sleep each night. The healthy sleep figures for other minorities weren’t much better: 54.2% for Non-Hispanic blacks, 53.6% for multiracial non-Hispanics, and 59.6% American Indians/Alaska Natives. For non-Hispanic whites, that number jumps to 66.8%, for Hispanics it’s 65.5%, and for Asians 62.5%.

Sleep habits were also linked to education and marital status, according to the CDC:

The prevalence of healthy sleep duration was highest among respondents with a college degree or higher (71.5%). The prevalence was higher among married respondents (67.4%) compared with those who were divorced, widowed, or separated (55.7%), or never married (62.3%).


Plus, sleep hour averages vary per state. In the state with the poorest sleep habits, Hawaii, just 56.1% of residents said they get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Hawaii is followed by Kentucky, where 60.3% of residents report getting a good night’s sleep. In South Dakota, where most people are well-rested, that figure spikes to 71.6%. Colorado follows with 71.5%. Sleep habits tended to be worse in the Southeastern and Appalachian states —the same regions were obesity, diabetes, and fatalities from stroke or heart disease are higher than average.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising. Per the CDC, a poor sleep schedule is linked to a number of diseases. In addition to the ones listed above, those who skimp on sleep are more likely to experience mental distress, and poor cognitive performance than their well-rested counterparts. Sleepy people are more likely to get into car accidents, and might behave like they’re literally drunk.

Though this is the first time that the CDC has broken down American sleep patterns by state, it’s far from the first time the government has called for people to get more and better sleep. The CDC warns that “insufficient sleep is a public health problem,” elaborating that “Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors,” and offering that “sleep insufficiency may be caused by broad scale societal factors such as round-the-clock access to technology and work schedules, but sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also play an important role.”


Wayne Giles, the director of the CDC’s Division of Population Health, said in a statement that “lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”


We have a feeling that won’t solve the problem for those working double shifts to pay rent, but we guess it’s a start.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.