The Role Ethnicity Plays in the Relationship Between Sleep and Stress Response

Sleep disturbances are widely prevalent and represent a significant health problem in the general population. Minorities sleep a significantly less amount of time than Caucasians. Given that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., it is important to understand patterns and correlations of sleep characteristics in this population. The overall objective of this study was to examine the association between self-reported sleep characteristics and stress response between Mexican American and Caucasian college students. For this purpose, a study was designed where stress response would be measured by changes in heart rate and changes in cortisol levels following a stressful lab task with 133 undergraduates. Sleep was measured using ten consecutive days of sleep diaries preceding the lab stress test. It was hypothesized that poor sleep would be associated with a greater stress response. It was also hypothesized that Mexican Americans would report less sleep duration and efficiency; more sleep variability, as well as worse quality of sleep compared to Caucasians. Given these predictions, it was expected that Mexican Americans would exhibit higher levels of stress response, compared to Caucasians. Results indicated no significant sleep differences between Mexican Americans and Caucasians. However, a non-significant trend was found indicating ethnicity as a potential moderator for the relationship between sleep duration and stress reactivity when measured by heart rate. No other relationships was significant. Ultimately, the present study was able to fill a gap in the literature and determine whether any sleep differences exist in a sample of equally represented Mexican American and Caucasian. This study in particular, addressed the low representation of Latinos in previous studies and the college population, as well as possible negative health outcomes related to sleep problems.