Gospel singer Tamela Mann said it best in her song “Take Me To The King”: Truth is, I’m tired. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic where we’re fighting for racial and social justice-with unemployment rates for Black people higher in comparison to our white counterparts and a lack of health care access disproportionately affecting Black individuals-the Black community has been driven to exhaustion. Whether we’re justice leaders in our local Black Lives Matter chapter or full-time students balancing life as a BIPOC citizen, being a Black person in this country has been overwhelmingly draining.
Rest is needed for our people: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Doctors, sleep specialists, and nap advocacy groups are making the case that Black people need to prioritize their rest right now-here’s why, and how we can start doing that.
The relationship between health and rest
Naps, and sleep in general, improve your productivity by strengthening your memory and attention span, relieve mental health stress, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes-two chronic illnesses that strike the Black community hard. But a lack of rest, coupled with hustle culture, affects Black people significantly, Virginia-based pediatrician and certified sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, tells Health.
“In the Black community, we go through so much that we think [sleep] is a luxury and we’re not able to afford it because of everything else that we have to do,” Dr. Holliday-Bell explains. “You should be able to sleep and do all of your normal things.” That lack of enough sleep-which she defines as getting less than 7 hours per night-leads to the health issues that disproportionately impact the Black community, she adds.
“Stress or racing thoughts can keep someone up at night or cause awakenings, and being sleep-deprived or having poor sleep can worsen anxiety and depression, which in turn affects sleep-it’s a vicious cycle,” Philadelphia-based sleep medicine specialist Thanuja Hamilton, MD tells Health. “Breaking that cycle means addressing the stressors and prioritizing sleep.”
Sleep deprivation also has mental and emotional risks. When you’re not sleeping enough on a regular basis, your body responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. There’s also more insulin resistance when you’re not getting enough sleep, she adds.
“Rest, and sleep specifically, is the ultimate healer; you have refinement in your emotional health while you’re asleep,” she explains. Sleep deficiency also increases your risk of depression or anxiety. “The emotional center of the brain is active at night; it builds stronger connections and helps to control your emotions during the day. When you’re not getting sleep, that leads to emotional dysregulation.”
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SOURCE: Health.com, D’Shonda Brown