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psc brown bag iconSleep and Health: Gender, socio-economic status and inequalities in sleep

Sara Arber (Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, UK)

11/26/2007, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

(jointly with UM-GHRT)

Sleep is fundamental to health and well-being, with lack of sleep increasingly shown to impact on cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes, as well as work and traffic accidents. Yet sleep has been the subject of little epidemiological or public health research, and is largely invisible in health promotion literatures. Inequalities in health research is not matched (yet) by parallel research on the extent and nature of inequalities in sleep among representative population samples.

The paper addresses two distinct areas. First, sleep provides a rich site for understanding aspects of gender inequalities within the family. The quality and timing of sleep is influenced by the social context in which it takes place, and by the individual’s roles in the private and public sphere. The majority of adults share their sleeping space with a partner; each partner’s actions influence the quality of the other partner’s sleep, but in gender differentiated ways. Our qualitative data (focus groups, couple interviews, individual interviews, audio sleep diaries) illustrate how studying sleep can be used as a window to examine the dynamics of gendered relationships.

Second, the paper analyses a representative sample from the UK Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2000, which asked questions about the quality of sleep and sleep problems. A sample of over 8000 men and women, aged 16 to 74 will be analysed, focusing on reported sleep problems. Nested logistic regression models show how the extent of sleep problems varies with age, gender, marital status, responsibilities for children, socio-economic status (SES) and health status. There are strong links between SES and poor sleep quality, particularly low income, living in public housing, non-employment and low educational qualifications. Much of the gender difference in sleep quality can be explained by differential SES. Although reported worries, smoking, health status and psychological health are linked to sleep problems, these variables do not fully explain the associations of disadvantaged material circumstances with poor sleep. In conclusion, sleep may be a potential mechanism through which SES influences inequalities in health.



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