LGBTQ+ Patients Have Poor Sleep Compared to Heterosexuals Interview with:

Jen-Hao Chen PhD Assistant Professor Department of Health Sciences and School of Public Affairs University of Missouri - Columbia

Dr. Jen-Hao Chen

Jen-Hao Chen PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Health Sciences and School of Public Affairs
University of Missouri – Columbia What is the background for this study?

Response: It has been well known that sexual minority adults in the US have worse health as compared with heterosexual peers. Queer folks are found to have poorer physical, mental and behavioral health outcomes because of their marginalized status and social environments. But we know very little about prevalence of sleep problems in the population of sexual minorities compared to heterosexual people. Do sexual minorities lose sleep? Do they wake up more often during the night? Do they sleep less? This study aims to address this important gap in the LGBT health literature. Using recent nationally representative data, we exam whether sexual minority adults have greater odds of having short sleep duration and poor sleep quality. In addition, we also investigate sexual minorities’ sleep in the context of gender and race/ethnicity What are the main findings?

Response: The short answer is: queer folds are losing sleep. More specifically, our analysis showed that gay men and lesbians were more likely than heterosexuals to have short sleep duration, and experience sleep disturbances. Bisexuals are more likely than heterosexual to experience difficulty falling asleep and waking up at night. Importantly, such gaps in sleep outcomes between sexual minorities and heterosexual individuals were not due to differences in demographic, social factors and existing health and mental health conditions. The analysis of sexual orientation and gender showed that the differences in sleep among men across sexual orientations could be explained by social and health conditions. However, the same set of factors can only partially explain the differences in sleep between sexual minority women and heterosexual women. Sexual minority women were also more likely to report waking up at night than sexual minority men. Finally the analysis of sexual orientation and race/ethnicity showed that non-white sexual minorities did not experience worse sleep quality than white sexual minorities, while they were more likely to report short sleep duration. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We want readers to keep in mind that there are huge disparities in sleep outcomes between sexual minorities and heterosexual individuals. This study drew 2013-2014 national data from of the National Health Interview Survey. Thus, our findings tell the general public and the scientific community that there are disparities in sleep in the United States by sexual orientation. Queer folds sleep poorer than heterosexual individuals. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future studies can further advance our understanding of disparities in sleep by sexual orientation if they: (1) adapt objective sleep measures in addition to subjective measures of sleep; (2) empirically test whether and to which degree the disparities in sleep can explain by the discrimination and stressful environment faced by sexual minorities; (3) collect longitudinal data to analyze the sleep disparities between sexual minorities and heterosexual individuals over the life course; and (4) develop and evaluate interventions to increase sleep quality among sexual minority adults. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Disparities in sleep experienced by sexual minority may serve as an important component in the biopsychosocial mechanisms in which “the social environment gets under the skin.” However, disparities in sleep have long been overlooked in scientific and healthcare community. The authors hope findings from this study can stimulate greater attention in scientific and healthcare community as well as more studies of sleep outcomes of the sexual minority population. These efforts can help develop evidence-based interventions to promote sleep health among sexual minority adults in the United States. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Chen JH, Shiu CS. Sexual Orientation and Sleep in the U.S.: A National Profile. Am J Prev Med. 2017 Jan 3. pii: S0749-3797(16)30581-5. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.10.039. [Epub ahead of print]

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on March 27, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD