Girl, go to bed!
Black women aren’t getting enough rest at night, and our health is suffering because of it. Here’s how to catch the z’s your body needs By Niema Jordan
You’ve heard the recommendations, but the truth is, getting a full night of sleep can seem like an impossible task at times. Yet it’s imperative—especially for Black women. “Sleep is the foundation of health,” notes Tiffany Lester, M.D., medical director at Parsley Health in San Francisco. “You can eat kale salads all day, work out twice a day and have a fulfilling, engaged life, but if you don’t give your body the opportunity to fully rest and detox, then it hardly makes any difference.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one third of Americans are clocking fewer than the seven to nine hours of snooze time advised for adults. Poor quality of sleep plagues Black women even more than our counterparts and undermines our overall health. “Blacks and Latinos tend to be poor sleepers, getting fewer than six hours on average per night—which is not enough, because poor sleepers are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease,” explains Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D., professor of population health and psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York City. Lack of shut-eye is also linked to diabetes, obesity, depression and a host of other chronic illnesses.
While some people are still riding the “they sleep, we grind” wave or simply not prioritizing rest, certain disorders can also cause sleep deprivation. According to the CDC, there are four key ones: narcolepsy, which is defined as nodding off too much during the daytime and experiencing sudden muscular weakness; restless leg syndrome, which usually feels like unpleasant “creeping” sensations in your legs accompanied by other pain; sleep apnea, which is characterized by interrupted breathing during rest that often causes gasping or snoring; and insomnia, which is the inability to fall or stay asleep (it leads to anxiety and other negative effects during the day).
“It turns out that insomnia is more common among Black women than among others,” notes Lynn Rosenberg, Sc.D., senior epidemiologist at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center. Rosenberg is also the principal investigator for the Black Women’s Health Study, the largest national study on the health of Black women. Her team is working on a clinical trial that aims to help us improve our overall health by getting quality sack time. In the meantime, check out our cheat sheet for better slumber.
Meditate, Meditate, Meditate
“Any type of meditation that’s done correctly under the guidance of a teacher or master can, in fact, help you have a good night’s sleep,” says Jean-Louis. Find your local meditation center and learn techniques to assist in calming your mind. Need a bit more direction? Download the Headspace app for daily lessons on meditation and mindfulness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) uses a structured program that focuses on thoughts and behaviors that might be affecting rest. “Years ago if you wanted to engage in this type of therapy, you would have to see a therapist or a psychologist,” says Jean-Louis. “Now we actually have CBT-I online, so you can, in the privacy of your home, engage in this practice yourself.” If you’re looking for a CBT-I professional in your area, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine has a directory on its site (behavioralsleep.org). Want to try an online program? Check out Sleepio (which provides plans through health insurance) or CBT-i Coach (which is free).
Change Your Routine
Do you drink coffee late in the day? Are you on your computer or watching Netflix before turning in? Opt for a different routine such as journaling before bed to relax and setting a firm lights-out time. “I typically recommend people look at the bedtime ritual,” says Lester. “We thrive when our bodies become used to a ritual. It sends a message to our brain to wake up or to sleep.”
Upgrade Your Bed
One third of your day should be spent in bed, so everything from the mattress to your linens is an investment in how well you sleep. Head to your nearest mattress store and test out a few new options. Or go online to a company like Nectar or Casper, which lets you test the mattress at home. The Sharper Image Calming Comfort weighted blanket has 10-, 15-, 20- and 25-pound versions (starting at $120 for 10 pounds, calmingcomfortblanket.com).
Block Out The Light
If the streetlights outside your window are a little too bright or the sun is waking you up earlier than necessary, you may want to buy blackout curtains. Nicetown blackout curtains (starting at $20, amazon.com) come in multiple colors and are noise-reducing.
Outside light isn’t the only thing factoring into snagging quality z’s. The blue light from TV screens and other devices can also keep the body up. If you must check your phone in the evening, put it on night shift (iPhone) or in night mode (Android). You can also pick up sleep masks that help block light. We like Bucky 40 Blinks sleep mask ($15, bucky.com). If your bedroom is dark and quiet and set at a comfortable temperature, you’ll be primed for a good night’s sleep.
A Simple Recipe For A Peaceful Night
Fall asleep faster and snooze more soundly with these products:
Earplugs: Tune out noise as you wind down. Mack’s slim-fit soft foam earplugs ($4 for a set of 10 pairs) are tops.
Pillows: Throw out those old, warped pillows and cozy up to a new hypoallergenic memory foam version that matches your sleep style. Check out the Xtreme Comforts pillow line ($60, xtremecomforts.com).
White Noise: If you have young kids at home, choose the ASTI LectroFan Classic white noise machine ($50,). It filters out the cacophony.