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Black Adults Have Worse Sleep Health After Exposure to Officer-Involved Killings

Exposure to officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals is associated with worse sleep health among Black adults in the United States, according to new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Specifically, Black adults reported significant increases in short and very short sleep following nationally prominent and state-specific officer-involved killings.

Previous research has demonstrated racial disparities in sleep health, as Black individuals are more likely to report short sleep durations than White individuals. However, relatively few studies have identified explanations for these disparities. Therefore, the current study examined the extent to which structural racism, in the form of police violencemay contribute to sleep health among Black adults in the US.

Researchers gathered individual-level data on sleep duration from 2 nationally representative, cross-sectional surveys: the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) and the American Time Use Surveys (ATUS). To identify officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals, the researchers used information from Mapping Police Violence (MPV), an online database that has tracked officer-involved killings since 2013. The primary outcomes of interest were self-reported total sleep duration (average house of sleep), short sleep (duration <7 hours), and very short sleep (duration <6 hours) among Black adults. For the primary exposure, the researchers used a binary indicator for whether an officer-involved killing of an unarmed Black person occurred in the respondent’s state of residence in four 90-day intervals before the BRFSS or ATUS surveys.

These findings further underscore the need for evidence-based institutional reforms to eliminate officer-involved killings in the Black community and other manifestations of biased policing.

Responses from the BRFSS survey included a total of 181,865 Black adults distributed across 50 US states and the District of Columbia and ATUS responses consisted of 9958 Black adults distributed across 44 states and the District of Columbia. For BRFSS and ATUS respondents, the mean duration of sleep was 6.8 (SD, 1.7) and 8.8 (SD, 2.5) hours, 45.9% and 22.6% reported short sleep, and 18.4% and 11.3% reported very short sleep, respectively. Overall, 331 officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals were recorded in the MPV database during the study period. Greater than one-third of participants in both surveys (BRFSS, 35.8% vs ATUS, 35.5%) were exposed to an officer-involved killing of an unarmed Black person in their state of residence in the 90 days before their survey interview.

The researchers found a 1.3 (95% CI, 0.5-2.2; P =.003) percentage point increase in short sleep and 1.1 (95% CI, 0.13-1.97; P =.03) percentage point increase in very short sleep among Black adults in the 91 to 180 days after officer-killings. When Black adults were exposed to nationally prominent officer-involved killings, these percentage point increases rose to 2.1 (95% CI, 0.02-4.08; P =.047) for short sleep and 2.1 (95% CI, 0.57-3.71; P =.01) for very short sleep.

No adverse outcomes on sleep health were found for White respondents exposed to officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals.

These findings support the notion that sleep health may be influenced by structural racism in the US. Study authors concluded, “These findings further underscore the need for evidence-based institutional reforms to eliminate officer-involved killings in the Black community and other manifestations of biased policing.”

The primary limitations of the study include the reliance on self-reported sleep duration rather than polysomnography, potential data inaccuracy from the use of the crowd-sourced MVP database, and a lack of data on the effect of nonfatal police encounters.

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor

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