Yip’s Sleep Study: How Racism and Stress Can Impact One’s Sleep Pattern

By: Caroline Palermo

Professor Tiffany Yip of Fordham University’s psychology department, in her current study that began in 2018, conducts research on the correlation between racial discrimination and sleep patterns. Before beginning this study, Yip proposed a grant to the National Institute of Health and eventually received the funding necessary for her current research. Now, three years after the original conduction of this research, Yip and her fellow researchers found the relationship between racial prejudices and sleep hygiene.

While focusing on how to facilitate optimal health and development in minorities and young adults, Yip centered her study around embodiment: the idea that the environment we are raised in has a sincere impact on one’s overall health. Yip and her team of researchers, including members of Fordham University’s Chemistry Department, concentrated on stress and embodiment’s role in creating it. Yip’s conception of stress is rooted in academics, personal experiences, social interactions, and one’s overall environment. The accumulation of stress diminishes one’s overall health, according to Yip, as stress is linked to heart disease, mortality rates, cancer, and cortisol levels. These high levels of stress that Yip mentions disproportionately impact minorities due to the level of discrimination, in both direct instances as well as social factors, received on a daily basis. Those who experience racial discrimination also have higher stress levels, which leads to a decrease in quality of sleep and overall health. 

To further this study, Yip was accompanied by the chemistry department at Fordham to conduct an empirical data analysis that would allow her to further test her initial findings. In this analysis, students used medical grade autographs —  devices similar to a Fitbit — to monitor levels of stress during each participant’s sleep. Data collected from the experiment supported the embodiment and stress theories previously mentioned. It is evident from this data that sleep quality varies across racial and ethnic lines. African Americans sleep less than all other groups and simultaneously receive the lowest quality of sleep. Asian students revealed that they were the sleepiest throughout the day in comparison to their white peers. “The relationship between race and something as fundamental as sleep suggests the strong connection between social stratification and [stress],” said Yip. Her research with these students revealed that those who experienced stress triggered by forms of racial discrimination are more likely to have deficient sleep — the effects of which last for multiple days. The conclusion from this study confirmed a relationship between sleep and race. 

Yip and her fellow researchers measured the cortisol levels of individual college-aged students, and she conducted her research in partnership with Fordham University’s chemistry department, which allowed her to look at cortisol levels as they develop in the hair with increased stress levels.  Using chemical extraction equipment, Yip extracted hair samples from the back of each student’s head, and ground the hair samples down to see the varying levels of cortisol. The experiment revealed that higher levels of cortisol found in the hair are linked to the individual’s experiences of discrimination and racism. This discrimination, as previously evidenced, increases stress while simultaneously decreasing quality of sleep, which is further linked to various health issues. 

Although Yip focuses on adolescents and college-aged students, she finds that these health effects carry into one’s adulthood. The detrimental effects of poor sleep hygiene lead Yip to strongly recommend seven to nine hours of sleep in order for students to perform well academically and reduce their susceptibility to health risks. Currently, Yip is conducting further research with volunteers from the Class of 2025 through the Fordham Undergraduate Sleep Study (FUSS). In understanding the sleeping patterns and academic performance of freshmen, she is able to gain a greater insight into the transition process from high school to college and its impact on students’ health. Given the ongoing nature of said transition, Yip and her colleagues continue to conduct this research to form a greater knowledge of sleep and its impact on adolescents and young adults. 

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