Sleep deprivation more common among Black adults exposed to police killings

NYPD officers arrest Black Lives Matter protesters in a clash during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City on May 28, 2020. According to a new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, Black adults suffer increased sleep deprivation following exposure to police killings of unarmed Black individuals. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A new study finds Black adults across the United States are losing sleep over police killings of unarmed Black Americans.

The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined individuals' news exposure to deaths of unarmed Black individuals during interactions with police. It found that while the exposure resulted in sleep deprivation for Black respondents, there were fewer adverse impacts on sleep health for White respondents, according to researchers.

"These findings show that poor sleep health is another unfortunate byproduct of exposure to these tragic occurrences," said the study's lead author Dr. Atheendar S. Venkataramani, an associate professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

"Exposure of Black Americans to police violence -- which disproportionately affects Black individuals -- adversely impacts sleep health of these individuals, a critical keystone that further impacts our mental, physical and emotional well-being," Venkataramani added.

News coverage of the events and ongoing trials of officers, including the December verdict in Tacoma, Wash., where three White police officers were found not guilty on all charges related to the death of a Black man -- Manuel "Manny" Ellis -- who died in police custody in 2020, perpetuate the exposure.

Last month, a former Colorado police officer was sentenced to 14 months in prison for his role in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man. McClain, who was 23, died from heart failure after he was injected with ketamine during a medical intervention while he was detained.

And a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was sentenced to 30 days in jail for the 2019 shooting death of Ryan Twyman, also an unarmed Black man.

Researchers analyzed the sleep duration of non-Hispanic Black adults before and after exposure to ongoing news coverage about the deaths of unarmed Black individuals, using data in the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey and the American Time Use Survey, as well as data on officer-involved killings from the Mapping Police Violence database.

Short sleep was defined as fewer than seven hours a night and very short sleep was defined as fewer than six hours a night.

According to the BRFSS, 45.9% of Black respondents reported short sleep compared to 32.6% of White respondents. For very short sleep, the numbers were 18.4% of Black respondents and 10.4% for White respondents.

The researchers' findings build on previous studies examining structural racism, exposure to neighborhood violence, discrimination and occupational stratification. They warn sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder and hypervigilance, as well as other health problems.

"Sleep duration among Black survey respondents worsened after exposure to officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals in their area of residence. Worsening sleep duration primarily manifested as increases in short sleep and very short sleep," the study found.

These findings "highlight one mechanism through which structural racism appears to influence sleep health: inequities in exposure to police violence. 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."