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When Sleep is Disturbed by Neighborhood

Teresa Bacon and her therapist have been discussing ways for her to deal with her anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder for over four years.

"And I was able to fall asleep yesterday, I was very happy about that…"

One of the things Bacon has been focused on improving… is something she’s struggled with her whole life – getting good sleep.

"I suffer from anxiety," Bacon said. "And being deprived of sleep intensified that, like all the way to the top, like 100 times."

Bacon’s sleep issues stem partly from living in a Cleveland West Side neighborhood where she experienced a traumatic incident with her daughter.

"Someone was actually shooting at a guy in a car outside my daughter’s window," Bacon said. "They were like maybe four feet away in the street. After that, I definitely couldn’t get no sleep. I actually had my kids come sleep with me in my room, which was all the way in the back of the house. That has a lot to do with children, and we’re talking about the fear again, you know. It plays a big role in not being able to sleep."

More and more research has shown that sleep quality and quantity is tied to the neighborhood you live in.

For Bacon, sleep problems started early when she experienced trauma as a child. She grew up in the Cleveland zip code of 44104, in the primarily African-American neighborhood of Woodland Hills.

According to the CDC, 54% of adults living in that zip code reported sleeping fewer than 7 hours a night. That neighborhood also has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Cleveland – which is a big barrier to sleep, says Bacon’s therapist Robyn Hill.

"When you’re living in an area where you’re hearing gunshots, where you’re hearing sirens constantly… You want to learn how to block out certain sounds and block out certain reactions," said Hill. "Not getting sleep, not resting definitely does not allow the brain to recharge. If we do not shut it down and let it rest for a minute, it will not function properly."

Case Western Reserve University researcher James Spilsbury began tackling this issue by documenting sleep in families living in Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods.

"I tend to think of the big sleep disturbers as noise, light, we found with our research with kids that temperature – temperature/humidity can be important," said Spilsbury. "Then in a broader sense, stress, worry, violence has a lot of adverse effects on sleep. Nightmares, insomnia, trouble going to sleep at night or staying asleep, those are key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."

In addition, studies show that African-Americans sleep fewer hours, and suffer from more sleep issues like sleep apnea or insomnia, compared to whites… a disparity that remains in spite of neighborhood or socio-economic status.

And sleeping fewer than 7 hours a night… is associated with chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, all of which affect African-Americans disproportionately.

As Teresa Bacon plans for her upcoming school semester with a mentor at Tri-C, she reflects on how her new home in Maple Heights, and also going back to school…were some ways for her to deal with her sleep issues and PTSD.

"The peace level is better, and I can sleep you know, a lot better now," said Bacon. "When you eliminate the fear you can start worrying about things that are important. You can’t live in fear and think you’re going to live a happy life."

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