NIH Grant Fuels Miller School Research on Insufficient Sleep and Heart Disease Risk among Hispanics

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researcher Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., is studying whether insufficient sleep, a problem that seems to disproportionately affect Hispanic/Latinx Americans, might be helping to drive the high heart disease risk known to impact this population.

Azizi Seixas, Ph.D
Azizi Seixas, Ph.D

Dr. Seixas, associate director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences (TSCS) and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Miller School, is principal investigator of the Determinants, Outcomes, Responses, and Mechanisms of Insufficient sleep in Rural-urban settings (DORMIR) study, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-funded R01 grant for $3 million.

Learning more about Hispanics’ sleep quality is particularly relevant to Floridians, according to Dr. Seixas.

“More than one-third of Florida residents get insufficient sleep, which is less than seven hours daily. This estimate varies across urban and rural counties, where rural and highly dense urban areas have greater prevalence of insufficient sleepers than state’s average,” he said. “South Florida counties like Broward [urban] and Hendry [rural] have some of the highest rates of insufficient sleep in Florida at around 41%. Reports also show that Hispanics/Latinx are disproportionately affected by insufficient sleep.”

Sleep duration varies greatly by ZIP code in South Florida, according to the latest census figures. The 33311 ZIP code, which includes Lauderdale Manors, Roosevelt Gardens, and Washington Park, has the worst sleep duration numbers in Miami-Dade and Broward, with more than half of people reporting that they get less than seven hours of sleep nightly. That’s compared to Key Biscayne, where about 31% of people reported getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Other ZIP codes that came up with nearly 50% of households reporting sleep deprivation include 33313, which is southern Lauderhill; 33056, Miami Gardens, Lake Lucerne; 33054, which is Opa-locka and Bunche Park; and 33150, which includes Liberty Square, Little Haiti, Little River, and North Shore Medical Center.

Despite the alarming prevalence of insufficient sleep, not enough is known about why it happens or its impact, although there are studies suggesting that sleep quality is linked to cardiovascular health, Dr. Seixas explained.

The Hispanic/Latinx population is disproportionately burdened by cardiovascular disease — or heart disease — risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

An image of a person having difficulty sleeping.
“It is unclear what factors contribute to insufficient sleep disparities and insufficient sleep-related cardiovascular disease burden among rural and urban Latinos and Latinas,” Dr. Seixas said.

“Death from cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death among Latinos and Latinas,” Dr. Seixas said.

While healthy diets, smoking cessation, and regular physical activity are linked to reduced heart disease risk, they have not been highly effective in reducing the heart disease burden among racial/ethnic groups — specifically, Hispanic/Latinx, Dr. Seixas said.

“Evidence shows that insufficient sleep, which is associated with potentially life-threatening cardiovascular disease, is a key modifiable risk factor with great potential to reduce health disparities. However, it is unclear what factors contribute to insufficient sleep disparities and insufficient sleep-related cardiovascular disease burden among rural and urban Latinos and Latinas,” he said.

Closing Gaps and Disparities

The DORMIR study aims to better understand causes of insufficient sleep in rural and urban areas of Florida and the Northeast, according to Dr. Seixas.

Dr. Seixas, who transferred the DORMIR R01 grant to the Miller School from New York University, where he was previously on the faculty, said that the study includes subjects from the New York Tri-State area, and he and his team are now recruiting more than 500 volunteers for the study in Florida.

“We will be doing a state-wide recruitment strategy throughout Florida, beginning with South Florida,” he said. “Our study will shed light on causes of poor sleep among urban and rural Hispanic/Latinx and will help us to better understand if these sleep disparities may explain the high burden of heart disease in this group.”

To conduct the research, Dr. Seixas, who leads the Miller School’s Media and Innovation Lab (MIL), will use several novel digital solutions, including the MILBox, a remote health monitoring technology that he helped to develop.

“Thus, we will test the feasibility of a remote health monitoring solution in underserved rural and urban areas,” he said. “The study will also create digital twins of each participant, which involves using health and environmental data collected from the MILBox to virtually test and evaluate various treatment options and potential outcomes before applying them in the physical world.”

These novel technologies will help lead Dr. Seixas and colleagues to more individualized understanding of health and, hence, personalized solutions.

“Lastly, the study will simulate which types of solutions and public health policies may lead to improvements in sleep profiles of rural and urban communities,” he said.

Tags: cardiovascular risks, Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, DORMIR study, Dr. Azizi Seixas, health disparities, hispanic health, insufficient sleep, MILBox, Miller School of Medicine, R01 grant, The Media Innovation Lab