Racial Tensions Are Endangering the Health of African Americans

Updated: Jun 26



If you are an African American the last several months have been emotionally gut-wrenching. The recent news coverage of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks have been psychologically and emotionally devastating for so many Americans. So many of us have either participated or watched numerous Black Lives Matter protests and marches play out all over the world. These images have been stressful and depressing for so many of us. We have seen so many news stories and video clips of the blatant and pervasive racial discrimination and unfair injustices that have been occurring to so many black and brown Americans.

While all of these acts of racial discrimination and murders committed by police officers are playing out in various states, we are also in the middle of a deadly and contagious pandemic. To make matters worse, African-Americans who are infected with COVID-19 are disproportionately dying at higher rates all over the world. Even before the coronavirus pandemic emerged in March, minorities were already experiencing racial biases and health disparities that include a lack of access to quality health care and a surging maternal mortality rate. These racial inequities will no doubt cause long-term health consequences that include increased stress, depression, anxiety, rage, and mental health consequences.


A recent study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on racial and ethnic discrimination and sleep health, found that stress and anxiety from racial discrimination can interfere with the ability to get adequate sleep (Gaston et al., 2020). Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night as well as managing stress is very important if we want to keep our immune system strong and healthy throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least one-third of US Adults are not getting the recommended six to eight hours of sleep (CDC, 2018).


If you're not getting enough sleep, more than likely your stress and cortisol levels will increase, which is directly associated with an increase in the production of body fat and inflammation. Continuing to operate with a sleep deficit is also linked to obesity, high blood pressure, prediabetes, diabetes, depression, stroke, and heart disease. The optimal amount of sleep is unique to each individual. However, the recommended amount of sleep ranges from 6 to 8 hours each night. You can determine how much sleep you really need by paying attention to how much time it takes for you to wake up feeling refreshed without needing an alarm clock.

We must stay vigilant about protecting and nurturing our health while we wait for a viable vaccine for COVID-19. We will need to dig deep and find creative ways to take care of our mental, physical, emotional, and psychological health. Remember, if you want to stay healthy and want to avoid getting sick from chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, you must control your stress levels, eat healthy foods, commit to an exercise regimen, and make certain you are getting enough sleep. If falling asleep and staying asleep remains a difficult process throughout these challenging times, try meditation, exercise, reading a book, or yoga to help you relax. There are a number of free meditation and yoga apps that can help with calming your mind and your breath, which can help you ease into a deeper and more restful sleep.


This is a really difficult and challenging time for all of us! We are being challenged to do everything different. Some of us don't have jobs and a regular income and parents are still uncertain if their children will be able to return to classes in the fall. Amidst all of this uncertainty, we must continue to fight for legislative changes that will remove the practice of deadly chokeholds committed by rogue police officers. However, we must fight in a way that protects our health and well-being.


If all of us do our part, I truly believe we can begin to see a huge reduction in the number of people who are dying from this contagious respiratory virus. Be well, be strong, wear your mask in public and around others, and please continue to practice social distancing.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sleep and Sleep Disorders. (February 22, 2018). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html

Gaston, S. A., Feinstein, L., Slopen, N., Sandler, D. P., Williams, D. R., & Jackson, C. L. (2020). Everyday and major experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination and sleep health in a multiethnic population of U.S. women: findings from the Sister Study. Sleep medicine, 71, 97–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2020.03.010


Disclosure: (I am a writer and editor for the National Institutes of Health. Information contained in this blog post are not associated with my role at NIH).

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