Black Power Naps and sleep experts discuss the importance of rest within the Black community, and why napping is one way to get more of it.

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Gospel singer Tamela Mann said it best in her song "Take Me To The King": Truth is, I'm tired. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic where we're fighting for racial and social justice-with unemployment rates for Black people higher in comparison to our white counterparts and a lack of health care access disproportionately affecting Black individuals-the Black community has been driven to exhaustion. Whether we're justice leaders in our local Black Lives Matter chapter or full-time students balancing life as a BIPOC citizen, being a Black person in this country has been overwhelmingly draining.

Rest is needed for our people: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Doctors, sleep specialists, and nap advocacy groups are making the case that Black people need to prioritize their rest right now-here's why, and how we can start doing that.

The relationship between health and rest

Naps, and sleep in general, improve your productivity by strengthening your memory and attention span, relieve mental health stress, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes-two chronic illnesses that strike the Black community hard. But a lack of rest, coupled with hustle culture, affects Black people significantly, Virginia-based pediatrician and certified sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, tells Health.

"In the Black community, we go through so much that we think [sleep] is a luxury and we're not able to afford it because of everything else that we have to do," Dr. Holliday-Bell explains. "You should be able to sleep and do all of your normal things." That lack of enough sleep-which she defines as getting less than 7 hours per night-leads to the health issues that disproportionately impact the Black community, she adds.

"Stress or racing thoughts can keep someone up at night or cause awakenings, and being sleep-deprived or having poor sleep can worsen anxiety and depression, which in turn affects sleep-it's a vicious cycle," Philadelphia-based sleep medicine specialist Thanuja Hamilton, MD tells Health. "Breaking that cycle means addressing the stressors and prioritizing sleep."

Sleep deprivation also has mental and emotional risks. When you're not sleeping enough on a regular basis, your body responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. There's also more insulin resistance when you're not getting enough sleep, she adds.

"Rest, and sleep specifically, is the ultimate healer; you have refinement in your emotional health while you're asleep," she explains. Sleep deficiency also increases your risk of depression or anxiety. "The emotional center of the brain is active at night; it builds stronger connections and helps to control your emotions during the day. When you're not getting sleep, that leads to emotional dysregulation." 

"[Sleep deprivation is] unfortunate because we already have so many health disparities in the Black community, and not enough people recognize the fact that while not sleeping leads to feeling tired and unrefreshed, it also has these significant physiological affects that lead to chronic medical conditions," she says.

BIPOC-led nap groups like Black Power Naps are advocating for the right to rest

Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa are Afro-Latinx artists who found themselves experiencing generational fatigue and racial trauma in this time of social upheaval for communities of color. So in 2019, they used their experiences to inspire Black Power Naps, an advocacy group currently based in Spain and expanding globally.

The mission of Black Power Naps is to encourage a culture of rest among Black people. "Black Power Naps really came from a lifetime of unrest and having a hard time accessing quality rest," Acosta tells Health.

Black Power Naps describes itself as an artistic initiative with a wide range of installations from zines to opera, all designed to combat the hundreds of years of lack of rest within the Black community and other communities of color caused by systemic racism in America. Instead of buying into the stereotype that Black people are lazy, Acosta and Sosa are taking back the narrative, defining rest and relaxation as healing and "a process of reparations" for their communities.

The group installs pop-up exhibitions that include colorful beds, hammocks, and canopies-encouraging passersby to stop and take a rest without fear or judgement, while also distributing crucial information on how sleep can be restorative and empowering. "Most leisure places are places of performance and exertion like basketball courts and skateboard parks," Acosta says. "It's all places of masculinity and while it's a place to chill, it's not a place to rest."

Other groups, including Atlanta-based The Nap Ministry and Khaliah O. Guillory's Texas-based The Nap Bar, have advocated for rest as resistance for the Black community throughout the United States. Through hosted nap installations, sleep education, and sleep-centered products, The Nap Ministry and The Nap Bar seek to improve Black people's relationship with sleep, seeing it as less of a luxury and more of a necessity.

Sosa and Acosta say they have something special planned for the future of Black Power Naps. A documentary on the group's rise is set to debut, and Sosa reveals that they are also working on a sleep-centered app with meditation guides, sleep sound, and crucial sleep information.

BIPOC can get much-needed rest through naps

With organizations like Black Power Naps and culturally competent doctors of color in the sleep medicine field, there's finally a push to ensure that Black people get the rest and relaxation they need.

Studies suggest that people in the Black community get the least and worst quality of sleep in comparison to their white, Asian, and Latinx counterparts, New York-based nurse and sleep educator Carleara Weiss, PhD, tells Health. And this held true even prior to the pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Not all experts in the field of sleep research believe napping is necessary or how long a nap should last, but Weiss believes that BIPOC can get that much-needed rest through naps. "We want the naps to be restorative, refresh the brain, and refresh the body," she explains, but not last so long that they lead a person into deep sleep stages. Assuming a person's schedule allows for a nap (and not everyone's does, especially since some people juggle 2 or 3 jobs or pull a night shift, Weiss points out), she suggests one 30-minute nap per day before 3 p.m., so you don't affect the quality of your nighttime sleep.

"We should not forget that structural racism also affects sleep quality and I believe it's the main cause for the problem," says Weiss. "It's not just about living in a certain neighborhood, but when it comes to the Black community, resources are not available for them." 

Sosa says he feels "like the youth is carrying so much including the protests, the pandemic, financial aid, supporting elders, and supporting children. If we could bring a little bit of solace in shifting the culture around the glorification of the hustle, it's important that we do so." Safeguard your energy because your energy is yours, they advised.

Let's take back what's owed to us and reclaim our rest to heal our stored trauma. Rest allows Black people the happiness and the healthiness we deserve and allows our brains to recharge and restore amid a tumultuous world. It's okay for our minds to shut down and sleep because we don't always have to be fierce and on the forefronts. Let this be a reminder that rest doesn't equate to weakness-it makes you stronger.

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