African Americans with sleep apnea and insomnia are rarely diagnosed with either disorder, even when the severity is likely to affect their health, according to new research presented at the American Thoracic Society 2017 International Conference, held May 19–24 in Washington, D.C.
Dayna A. Johnson, PhD, MPH, MS, MSW, a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and her colleagues studied data on 825 African Americans who underwent a sleep study as part of the Jackson (Miss.) Heart Study, a population-based longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The average age of those undergoing the study was 63 years, and two-thirds of the participants were women.
The study found that three of every four participants had sleep apnea: 38.4% had mild sleep apnea; 21.3% had moderate sleep apnea; and 15.8% had severe sleep apnea. Only 2.1% of those with sleep apnea reported that a physician had diagnosed the condition, however.
According to Dr. Johnson, the prevalence of both sleep apnea and insomnia in the study population was higher than would be expected in the general population of adults of a similar age.
“African Americans experience a disproportionate burden of numerous health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, all of which have been shown to be associated with sleep,” said Dr. Johnson. “It seems plausible that sleep apnea and insomnia are important risk factors contributing to these health disparities.”
“There is a disturbingly high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disorders in our study population of African Americans,” she added. “It is important to investigate the reasons for this high prevalence as well as investigate interventions targeted at increasing awareness and screening for sleep disorders.”