Racial Discrimination Mediates Race Differences in Sleep Problems: A Longitudinal Analysis

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Objectives: To examine changes in sleep problems over a 1.5-year period among Black or African American (AA) and White or European American (EA) college students and to consider the role of racial discrimination as a mediator of race differences in sleep problems over time. Method: Students attending a large, predominantly White university (N = 133, 41% AA, 57% female, mean age = 18.8, SD = .90) reported on habitual sleep characteristics and experiences of racial discrimination at baseline and follow-up assessments. A latent variable for sleep problems was assessed from reports of sleep latency, duration, efficiency, and quality. Longitudinal models were used to examine race differences in sleep problems over time and the mediating role of perceived discrimination. Covariates included age, gender, parent education, parent income, body mass index, self-rated physical health, and depressive symptoms. Each of the individual sleep measures was also examined separately, and sensitivity analyses were conducted using alternative formulations of the sleep problems measure. Results: AAs had greater increases in sleep problems than EAs. Perceived discrimination was also associated with increases in sleep problems over time and mediated racial disparities in sleep. This pattern of findings was similar when each of the sleep indicators was considered separately and held with alternative sleep problems measures. Conclusions: The findings highlight the importance of racial disparities in sleep across the college years and suggest that experiences of discrimination contribute to group disparities.

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