Conference Coverage

Race and gender: Tailoring treatment for sleep disorders is preferred and better



While trials of various interventions for obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia were effective, there was a strong suggestion that tailoring them according to the race/gender of the target populations strengthens engagement and improvements, according to a presentation by Dayna A. Johnson, PhD, MPH, at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST).

Dr. Johnson, assistant professor at Emory University in Atlanta, stated that determinants of sleep disparities are multifactorial across the lifespan, from in utero to aging, but it was also important to focus on social determinants of poor sleep.

The complexity of factors, she said, calls for multilevel interventions beyond screening and treatment. Racism and discrimination come into play, especially with regard to anxiety and stress, In addition, neighborhood factors including safety, noise and light pollution, ventilation, and thermal comfort come into play.

Dr. Johnson cited the example of parents who work multiple jobs to provide for their families: “Minimum wage is not a livable wage, and parents may not be available to ensure that children have consistent bedtimes.” Interventions, she added, may have to be at the neighborhood level, including placing sleep specialists in the local neighborhood “where the need is.” Cleaning up a neighborhood reduces crime and overall health, while light shielding in public housing can lower light pollution.

Observing that African Americans have higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Johnson and colleagues designed a screening tool specifically for African Americans with five prediction models with increasing levels of factor measurements (from 4 to 10). The prediction accuracy across the models ascended in lockstep with the number of measures from 74.0% to 76.1%, with the simplest model including only age, body mass index, male sex, and snoring. The latter model added witnessed apneas, high depressive symptoms, two measures of waist and neck size, and sleepiness. Dr. Johnson pointed out that accuracy for well-established predictive models is notably lower: STOP-Bang score ranges from 56% to 66%; NoSAS ranges from 58% to 66% and the HCHS prediction model accuracy is 70%. Dr. Johnson said that a Latino model they developed was more accurate than the traditional models, but not as accurate as their model for African Americans.

Turning to specific interventions, and underscoring higher levels of stress and anxiety among African American and Hispanic populations, Dr. Johnson cited MINDS (Mindfulness Intervention to Improve Sleep and Reduce Diabetes Risk Among a Diverse Sample in Atlanta), her study at Emory University of mindfulness meditation. Although prior studies have confirmed sleep benefits of mindfulness meditation, studies tailored for African American or Hispanic populations have been lacking.

The MINDS pilot study investigators enrolled 17 individuals (mostly women, with a mixture of racial and ethnic groups comprising Black, White, Asian and Hispanic patients) with poor sleep quality as measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Most patients, Dr. Johnson said, were overweight. Because of COVID restrictions on clinic visits, the diabetes portion of the study was dropped. All participants received at least 3 days of instruction on mindfulness meditation, on dealing with stress and anxiety, and on optimum sleep health practices. While PSQI scores higher than 5 are considered to indicate poor sleep quality, the mean PSQI score at study outset in MINDS was 9.2, she stated.

After 30 days of the intervention, stress (on a perceived stress scale) was improved, as were PSQI scores and actigraphy measures of sleep duration, efficiency and wakefulness after sleep onset, Dr. Johnson reported. “Participants found the mindfulness app to be acceptable and appropriate, and to reduce time to falling asleep,” Dr. Johnson said.

Qualitative data gathered post intervention from four focus groups (two to six participants in each; 1-1.5 hours in length), revealed general acceptability of the MINDS app. It showed also that among those with 50% or more adherence to the intervention, time to falling asleep was reduced, as were sleep awakenings at night. The most striking finding, Dr. Johnson said, was that individuals from among racial/ethnic minorities expressed appreciation of the diversity of the meditation instructors, and said that they preferred instruction from a person of their own race and sex. Findings would be even more striking with a larger sample size, Dr. Johnson speculated.

Citing TASHE (Tailored Approach to Sleep Health Education), a further observational study on obstructive sleep apnea knowledge conducted at New York University, Dr. Johnson addressed the fact that current messages are not tailored to race/ethnic minorities with low-to-moderate symptom knowledge. Also, a 3-arm randomized clinical trial of Internet-delivered treatment (Sleep Healthy or SHUTI) with a version revised for Black women (SHUTI-BWHS) showed findings similar to those of other studies cited and suggested: “Tailoring may be necessary to increase uptake and sustainability and to improve sleep among racial/ethnic minorities.”

Dr. Johnson noted, in closing, that Black/African American individuals have higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea than that of their White counterparts and lower rates of screening for treatment.

Dr. Johnson’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Woodruff Health Sciences Center; Synergy Award; Rollins School of Public Health Dean’s Pilot and Innovation Award; and Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research Pilot and Feasibility award program. She reported no relevant conflicts.

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