Sleep disturbances and undiagnosed sleep apnea are common issues among middle-aged and older adults in the U.S., and these sleep problems occur more often among racial and ethnic minorities, according to a new study published in the journal Sleep.
“Our findings underscore the very high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disturbances in middle-aged and older adults, and identify racial/ethnic disparities that include differences in short sleep duration, sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness,” said lead author Dr. Xiaoli Chen, research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The study involved 2,230 racially/ethnically diverse men and women who were between the ages of 54 and 93 years. Data was gathered by the following means: polysomnography, a sleep study that measures brain waves, oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate, and breathing patterns; actigraphy, a non-invasive measuring device worn by patient to monitor gross motor activity; and validated questionnaires.
The researchers found that 34 percent of participants had moderate or severe sleep-disordered breathing as measured by polysomnography, and 31 percent had short sleep duration with less than six hours per night measured by actigraphy.
Questionnaires also showed that 23 percent reported having insomnia, and 14 percent reported excessive daytime sleepiness. Only nine percent of participants reported being diagnosed with sleep apnea by a doctor.
Blacks were most likely to have short sleep duration of less than six hours, and they were more likely than whites to have sleep apnea syndrome, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness. Hispanics and Chinese were more likely than whites to have sleep-disordered breathing and short sleep duration, but Chinese were least likely to report having insomnia.
The study is believed to be the first to comprehensively evaluate objective measures of sleep apnea, short sleep, and poor sleep, as well as subjective measures of habitual snoring, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness in a multi-ethnic U.S. population that includes Chinese Americans. The findings suggest that sleep disturbances may contribute to health disparities among U.S. adults.
“As sleep apnea has been implicated as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and mortality, our findings highlight the need to consider undiagnosed sleep apnea in middle-aged and older adults, with potential value in developing strategies to screen and improve recognition in groups such as in Chinese and Hispanic populations,” said senior author Dr. Susan Redline, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.