Growing up in unsafe neighborhoods may lead to poorer sleep in adulthood

Children's Health

A recent study of Black women found that growing up in an unsafe neighborhood was associated with poorer sleep in adulthood.

A total of 1,611 Black women in Detroit, Michigan, who enrolled in the Study of Environment, Lifestyle and Fibroids reported their perceived childhood neighborhood safety at ages 5, 10 and 15 years. Participants also reported their sleep duration, quality, and insomnia symptoms.

Results show that those who perceived their neighborhood as unsafe versus safe at each age were more likely to frequently wake up feeling unrested as adults. Short sleep duration of less than seven hours and frequently waking up feeling unrested during adulthood were reported by approximately 60% of women, and 10% reported frequent insomnia symptoms. Perceived unsafe neighborhood at ages 5 and 15 years was associated with frequent insomnia symptoms and frequently waking up feeling unrested, respectively. Participants who perceived their neighborhood as unsafe at age 10 years had a marginally higher prevalence of both frequently waking up feeling unrested and frequent insomnia symptoms during adulthood.

Due to structural racism and historical practices of redlining as well as contemporary residential segregation, Black/African American children are disproportionately overrepresented in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty and being unsafe. Our results suggest that intervening to help make a child’s neighborhood feel safe, a modifiable target in which both communities and policy makers can intercede, may help prevent other downstream risk factors, namely poor sleep health, before it develops and potentially negatively impacts both mental and physical health.”

Symielle Gaston, lead author

Symielle Gaston has a doctorate in epidemiology and is a research fellow with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

Gaston added that while addressing neighborhood safety at any age is important, middle childhood may be an optimal time for safety and sleep interventions since relationships between perceived safety with adulthood sleep were most consistent. She hopes to continue this line of research using objective measures over the life course and in different geographic areas.

This study was funded by the Division of Intramural Research within NIEHS, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds designated for NIH research.

Journal reference:

Gaston, S., et al. (2022) Perceived Childhood Neighborhood Safety and Sleep Health during Adulthood. Sleep. doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsac079.236.

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