When Black Children Get Less Sleep, Rest Really Is Resistance

Black children face a greater sleep deficit than kids of other races and it grows as they get older because of issues like environmental racism. Here’s what parents can do to help.

Siblings being tucked in bed by mother.

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Want to give your children a head start in life?  Put them to sleep.  Rather, put them on a sleep routine. Establishing a nightly sleep routine in infancy sets the guidelines for lifelong positive sleep patterns. And, especially for Black children, sleep matters. 

Studies show that compared to other groups, Black people have higher incidences of short sleep or sleep deprivation. Researchers at the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) discovered that Black Americans get less sleep than white Americans, a deficit of 15 minutes a day in childhood that grows into sleep deprivation of almost an hour in adulthood.

According to the Sleep Foundation, the younger a person is, the more sleep they need. Newborns need to sleep 14-17 hours per day, infants need to sleep 12-15 hours per day, and teens need to sleep 8-10 hours per day. A study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found sleep deprivation, or the lack of sufficient sleep, decreases a child’s brain development and that children’s sleep is related to brain health

Black children, like others who don’t have healthy sleep habits, are at risk of poor school performance, developing anxiety and depression in adulthood, becoming obese, and developing diabetes. But unlike other children, Black children face a number of factors that impact the quality of their sleep. 

A 2022 Stat article detailed how racism and factors associated with it, like environmental discrimination, affect rest for Black adults. The reality is, too often, Black children are also subjected to macro- and micro-aggressions and negative interactions due to the color of their skin which can affect their sleep. 

But, using the right tools can make rest a time to decompress, countering the impact of racism.

Finding the Right Sleep Routine for Your Child

A bedtime routine is a consistent, repetitive set of activities that is carried out before bed every night. It helps your child relax before bed and creates a sense of security. For younger children, predictable routines can help them eventually fall asleep on their own.  

Research shows that children who follow bedtime routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. These benefits to sleep quality are still seen years later in children who followed bedtime routines when they were younger. 

Here’s how to create a sleep routine for your child. 

Create a consistent routine.

Have a consistent routine, that starts at the same time each night, with your child, like a bath followed by a bedtime story and affirmations. This helps children slow down from the activities of the day and get ready for sleep. For older kids, the pre-bed routine might include a quiet talk with you discussing their day, or a book to relax before the lights are turned off.

No caffeine before bed.

No energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate, or cola before bed.  Caffeine is a stimulant. Warm milk before bed is fine.

Create a calming environment.

The room should be dark and comfortably cool. Important: no cell phones, computers, or electronics on at bedtime. The blue light from electronics disrupts normal brain sleep patterns.

Comfort your child .

Make sure your child feels safe enough to go to sleep.  No scary stories before bed, either real or imagined. If asked, check under the bed and the closet for monsters.

Provide positive affirmations.

Affirm your child with words of love. Affirmations can help children to counteract issues of racism or discrimination that can possibly keep them up at night.

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