Black Individuals’ Sleep Hindered by Police Killing Unarmed Blacks

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After a study assessed how sleep was hindered following incidences where the police killed unarmed Black individuals, Black respondents had shorter sleep durations and more very short sleep (< 6 hours) than White participants.

Black adults in the US face sleep issues after hearing news about unarmed Black individuals killed by police, a new study found.1

The investigators noted the sleep issues could either stem from the news itself or the news leading to mental health conditions such as depression or PTSD which can, in turn, hinder sleep. Short sleep is also a risk factor for many chronic and mental health conditions.

The study, led by Atheendar S. Venkataramani, MD, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania, sought to evaluate the changes in sleep duration in Black individuals following the police killing of unarmed Black people by conducting 2 different analyses. The study’s main outcomes were self-reported total sleep duration in hours, short sleep (< 7 hours), and very short sleep (< 6 hours).

“These findings show that poor sleep health is another unfortunate byproduct of exposure to these tragic occurrences,” Venkataramani said in a press release.2 “Exposure of Black Americans to police violence—which disproportionately effects Black individuals—adversely impacts sleep health of these individuals, a critical keystone that further impacts our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.”

The first analysis evaluated changes in duration for the US non-Hispanic Black population before and after hearing about the killings. The team analyzed 2 cross-sectional, phone-based surveys to obtain sleep duration data: the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) from 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2016 (18,865 Black respondents, 1,799,757 White respondents) and the American Time Survey (ATUS) from the 2013 and 2019 waves (9858 Black respondents, 46,532 White respondents).1

They also leveraged data on killings by police from the Mapping Police Violence database. Analyses were conducted between September 24, 2021, and September 12, 2023.

In BRFSS, most respondents were 35 – 64 years old, women (54.1%), and college-educated (52.3%). Respondents had a mean sleep duration of 6.8 hours with 45.9% reporting short sleep and 18.4% reporting very short sleep. In ATUS, respondents had a mean sleep duration of 8.8 hours, with 22.6% reporting short sleep and 11.3% reporting very short sleep.

Black respondents had shorter sleep durations than White participants as they had a rate of 45.9% vs a rate of 32.6%. Black respondents also had more very short sleep compared to White respondents (18.4% vs. 10.4%, respectively).

The team observed small, nonsignificant decreases in average sleep duration 90 days (reduction: 0.03 hours; 95% CI, - 0.08 to 0.03; P = .29) and 91 – 180 days (0.04 hours; 95% CI, -0.084 to 0.013; P = .15) after the news for BRFSS respondents. However, there were significant increases in short sleep or very short sleep after hearing about the killings.

Short sleep increased by 0.8 percentage points in 90 days (95% CI, -0.37 to 2.0; P = .18) and increased by 1.3 percentage points after 91 – 180 days (95% CI, 0.5 to 2.2; P = .003). Moreover, very short sleep increased by 1.2 percentage points (95% CI, 0.004 to 2.4; P = .05) and increased by 1.1 percentage points after 91 – 180 days (95% CI, 0.13 to 1.97; P = .03).

Estimates of increases after 180 days were 2.7% for short sleep and 6.5% for very short sleep, but they were nonsignificant.

When the police killed an unarmed Black person in their state of residence during the first two 90-day periods before the interview, Black respondents had statistically significant increases in the likelihood of short sleep and very short sleep. Black respondents reported a non-statistically significant 0.06-hour decrease in the average sleep duration within 90 days (95% CI, -0.13 to 0.01; P = .07), a statistically significant 2.1-percentage point increase in short sleep (95% CI, 0.02 to 4.08; P = .047), and a 2.1-percentage increase in very short sleep (95% CI, 0.57 to 3.71; P = .01).

The team highlighted several limitations, including sleep duration being self-reported, as well as obtaining exposure variables from a crowd-sourced database which might have incomplete or unreliable data and might not include all officer-involved killings. Other limitations investigators stated included the data only including officers who used force for killings but nonfatal encounters with police could have affected people and the data being unable to confirm if the respondents knew about the specific killing used as measures.

“Sleep health among Black adults worsened after exposure to officer-involved killings of unarmed Black individuals,” investigators concluded. “These findings underscore the role of structural racism in shaping racial disparities in sleep health.”


  1. Venkataramani AS, Bair EF, Bor J, et al. Officer-Involved Killings of Unarmed Black People and Racial Disparities in Sleep Health. JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 5, 2024. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.8003
  2. Losing Sleep Over Killings of Unarmed Black Individuals by Police. Newswise. February 1, 2024. Accessed February 7, 2024.