It's hard to imagine that there could be racial and ethnic distinctions in the way people sleep, but there are, according to research presented at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's SLEEP 2012 conference Wednesday.

Two studies set out to explore sleep disparities among Americans based on racial and ethnic background. One study, conducted by researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY), looked at 400,000 respondents from the National Health Interview Surveys between 2004 and 2010 and found that those born in the United States were more likely to report sleeping longer than the recommended seven to nine hours each night. African-born Americans were more likely to report sleeping six hours or less, and Indian-born Americans reported six to eight hours a night.

On a smaller scale, sleep researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago analyzed the sleep of 439 randomly selected Chicago men and women. They found that white participants slept significantly longer than the other groups, and blacks reported the worst sleep quality. Asians had the highest reports of daytime sleepiness, which study co-author Mercedes Carnethon Ph.D. says surprised her team the most.

The reasons for the disparity is the subject of ongoing research. "When we're faced with speculating why we see these race differences in sleep duration, we tend to think it has more to do with the social and cultural factors related to race than physiologic factors," Carnethon told The Huffington Post.

In fact, she and her team made a concerted effort to exclude people with sleep disorders from their study -- disorders such as sleep apnea, which affects African-Americans more frequently than other groups -- and opted for an objective rather than a self-reported approach to collecting data.

Like Carnethon's research, previous studies have attributed socio-economic status, lower education levels and even being unmarried to poorer sleep habits. "We know that people who have fewer socio-economic resources tend to work in jobs that are higher demand and lower control, which causes a great deal of psychological stress. There's also the stress of worrying about finances, which can keep people awake at night. And in this country, socio-economic status is closely tied with race," Carnethon says.

"Sleep is a really unique health behavior, in that choosing short sleep or poor quality, non-restorative sleep has no benefit, unlike eating doughnuts everyday, which at least have a pleasurable benefit," she says. "A lot of times, it's outside of individuals' control why they're getting less sleep."

A 2010 survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) revealed similar sleep habits among blacks, and linked it to busy bedtime routines. In the NSF survey, African-Americans were most likely to report doing job-related work in the hour before bed, and losing sleep every night over personal financial and employment concerns at a higher rate than whites or Asians.

Regardless of race or ethnicity, experts caution that not getting enough quality sleep can be detrimental to overall health. In another study presented this week at SLEEP 2012, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that people sleeping less than six hours had a four times increased risk of experiencing stroke symptoms [even if they didn't have a history of stroke] compared to their normal weight counterparts that were getting seven to eight hours.

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  • Keep Up With Your Commitments

    Just like any relationship, sleeping better also requires you not to cheat -- your schedule, that is. Try to sleep around the same time each day to fall into a daily routine.

  • Get 7 To 8 Hours Of Sleep

    They say you need seven to eight hours of sleep every day -- Cederberg says 'they' are right. She says most adults function the best with at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

  • Turn Off The Lights

    To ensure a good night's sleep, make sure your room is dark. Close the curtains, turn off your lamp and the television. Cederberg says the smallest amount of light could affect your sleep -- use an eye mask if you need to.

  • Test Your Pillows -- Really

    Cederberg suggests spending a day testing out different types of pillows, like feather or foam ones, to see which one is the best fit for you. You should never test a pillow if you're tired though -- you may just like everything in the store.

  • Stay Fit

    Exercising isn't only good for your health, it can give you energy throughout the day. Challenging your body will also help you rest better, Ceberberg says.

  • Keep Your Bedroom Clean

    Make sure your room is tidy before you sleep. Switch up your linens once every two weeks, keep your room dust free and Cederberg recommends adjusting the temperature to 18 degrees Celsius for the best zZZ environment.

  • Block Out Noise

    If you live in the city, the sounds of cars and buses may be your morning wake up call (or the annoyances keeping you up at night). Cederberg suggests using ear plugs to block out unwanted noise.

  • Put Your Phone Away

    Another distraction before sleeping is playing with your phone or answering texts. Put your phone in another room to help fall asleep with a clear mind and not worry about a meeting the next day.

  • Say No To Heavy Meals

    Midnight snack cravings? Try to say no. Eating heavy foods right before bed will make it harder for your body to digest and make you tired the next morning.

  • Find A Good Mattress

    Even though pillows ensure a good night's rest -- a good mattress is just as important.