Many Latinos in the US don't get enough sleep, and researchers are trying to learn why

By Lourdes Medrano, American Heart Association News

Drazen Zigic/iStock via Getty Images
(Drazen Zigic/iStock via Getty Images)

Lea en español

A good night's sleep is essential for good health, but many Latinos in the U.S. just don't get enough of it.

To shed light on possible reasons why, researchers are studying the sleep habits of those living near the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I honestly don't think we have a very good understanding of what the rates of (sleep problems) are in the Latino community," said John Ruiz, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He is part of the research team studying the sleep habits of Latinos living in the Nogales, Arizona, area along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The goal of the Nogales Cardiometabolic Health and Sleep Study is to help develop "an understanding of how border contexts and social contexts impact sleep in the border region," Ruiz said. "Second, do those sleep patterns and associated cardiovascular risks vary as a function of ethnicity? Do Latinos experience those contexts different than non-Latinos, and is that helpful or harmful to their health?"

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but about 1 in 3 Latino adults sleep less than seven hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's on par with the overall U.S. population.

Insufficient sleep, insomnia and disorders such as sleep apnea have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – conditions that can increase the risk of heart disease.

Until about a decade ago, the sleep health of Hispanic people received little attention. But the U.S. Hispanic population grew 23% between 2010 and 2020 to more than 62 million, census data show. Now, Latino sleep research has gradually expanded, and findings suggest that they have a higher incidence of sleep deprivation – but the causes still are not well known.

In the southern Arizona county of Santa Cruz, about 1,000 adults – mostly Mexican Americans – ages 25 to 60 are participating in the sleep study. "Proximity to the border may come with more stress, and that higher stress can impact one's ability to sleep," Ruiz said.

Neighborhoods next to the border often must contend with increased noise, but residents of the county also live with fewer resources and often intense political scrutiny around border security and safety. "All those things could be particularly challenging," he said. "They can influence how well you're going to be able to get a good night's rest."

Socioeconomic status also can affect sleep, Ruiz said. About 20% of the county's residents live in poverty, census data show. Latinos make up more than 80% of the county's nearly 48,000 residents, and many have to work more than one job to make ends meet. "That time has to come from somewhere," he said.

The research is being conducted jointly with Mariposa Community Health Center, which is gathering data on sleep-related factors such as stress, acculturation and socioeconomic information, said Patty Molina, the center's senior director of community health services and co-principal investigator of the study.

For two weeks, participants receive checkups and take-home devices to monitor sleep patterns. Molina, who is overseeing the study at Mariposa, said non-Hispanic white people also are participating for comparison data. In other parts of the U.S., some studies have found non-Hispanic white people sleep longer and better than other racial or ethnic groups.

Molina said the importance of the Arizona study lies in determining the link between sleep, health and social and environmental factors that "affect a lot of people, especially here along the border."

The study recently restarted after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ruiz expects it to be completed by the end of this year. The study's findings could be applied in future research of a growing and diversifying Hispanic population, he said.

"We'll have to take that on down the line," Ruiz said. "The Latino population is the younger group by age, meaning that it's only going to be increasing in the proportion of the total population," he said. "Understanding the health of Latinos is going to be increasingly important as a national priority."

American Heart Association News Stories

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Association’s official guidance, policies or positions.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt from or reprint these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.