Acculturation and Depression Are Associated With Sleep Problems Among Mexican Americans

A young woman lying on a bed in a dimly lit room with her eyes open. The clock in front of her reads 2:50.

Sleep plays an important role in maintaining vital body organs and systems (such as metabolism, cognition, memory, attention, mental health, cardiovascular health). Yet, about 50 to 70 million U.S. adults report having a sleep problem, either short sleep duration or long sleep duration.

In a recent study funded by NIMHD, researchers found that acculturation and depression are associated with short and long sleep duration among Mexican Americans. The researchers defined:

  • Acculturation as the length of time respondents had lived in the United States and the major language spoken at home (whether English or Spanish).
  • Short sleep (or insufficient sleep) as 6 hours of sleep or less per day.
  • Long sleep (or oversleeping) as 9 hours of sleep or more per day.

Several studies show that both short sleep and long sleep have negative health effects:

  • Short sleep has been linked to depression, inflammation, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and other adverse health outcomes.
  • Long sleep have been linked to cardiovascular disease.

These studies suggest that the problem of short sleep may increase over time, and people from racial and ethnic minority groups would be more affected. For example, Hispanic/Latino individuals have been shown to consistently report shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality, and greater difficulty falling asleep compared to White individuals. However, within the Hispanic/Latino population, sleep problems may vary by country of origin or acculturation. In other words, an individual may be Hispanic/Latino but their country of origin or how long they have lived in the United States (i.e., acculturation) may impact their sleep, as research evidence shows that acculturation can pose high risks for anxiety and depression and, depression, in turn, can cause sleep problems.

To further understand this link, researchers examined the association of acculturation, depression, and short and long sleep duration among Mexican American adults. It is important to learn about the link between acculturation and sleep health of Mexican Americans, because this population is the largest Hispanic/Latino group in the United States and may have different sleep patterns from other Hispanic/Latino groups. Also, Mexican immigrants in the United States have been shown to be at a higher risk for acculturative stress and related health outcomes.

The researchers analyzed data from 4,700 Mexican American adults from the 2005-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES combines interviews and physical examinations and is designed to produce nationally representative data on different health topics and population groups in the United States.

In this study, sleep duration was defined as short (6 hours or less), optimal (7–8 hours), and long (9 hours or more) based on the clinical and epidemiological literature and recommendations on adult sleep duration from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Acculturation was defined as the length of time respondents had lived in the United States (categorized as less than 10 years, or 10 years or more) and the language(s) spoken at home (categorized as majority Spanish, English and Spanish equally, and majority English). Depression severity was assessed using scores from the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (scores were summed and categorized as minimal, mild, moderate, and moderately severe or severe).

Of the 4,700 respondents surveyed in this study—

  • 86% had lived in the United States for 10 years or more and 14% less than 10 years.
  • 51% spoke majority Spanish, 35% spoke majority English.
  • 77% reported minimal levels of depression, while others reported depression levels ranging from mild to severe.

The researchers found that acculturation was associated with short and long sleep duration. People with higher levels of acculturation, that is, people who have lived in the United States for 10 years or more and who spoke majority English were more likely to be depressed and experience short or long sleep duration. Speaking majority English was linked with short sleep duration, living in the United States for 10 years or more was linked to long sleep duration, and depression was linked to both short and long sleep duration. Mild, moderate, and moderately severe or severe depression were associated with short sleep duration; and moderately severe or severe depression was associated with long sleep duration.

Overall, the study provides additional evidence that acculturation and depression are linked to sleep problems among Mexican Americans. Improving knowledge on how sleep duration is influenced by acculturation and depression in this population is vital to addressing and reducing sleep health disparities in the United States. The authors called for further examination of other types of sleep-related problems among Mexican Americans, such as trouble falling asleep.

This study is a collaboration between researchers from the NIMHD Division of Intramural Research and Information Management Services.


Ormiston, C. K., Lopez, D., Montiel Ishino, F. A., McNeel, T. S., & Williams, F. (2022). Acculturation and depression are associated with short and long sleep duration among Mexican Americans in NHANES 2005-2018. Preventive Medicine Reports, 29, 101918.

Page updated April 25, 2023