Last Updated on June 14, 2022 by BVN
In July, California will become the first state in the nation to implement later school start times for middle and high school teens. One mother who advocated for the change has written a book explaining why this is so important for the mental health of our youth.
Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |
When we sleep our bodies do the important work of maintenance and repair as well as rest.
In our busy world with work, family and social demands it is easy not to get enough sleep and over time it impacts us in a variety of ways whether it is decreased productivity, reduced energy, etc. The tendency to get too little sleep is even more concerning for teenagers who, studies show, require more sleep than adults.
One concerned parent and journalist began to research the issue when she noticed her teen showing signs of fatigue. Lisa Lewis’ research and networking with like minded parents resulted with a request— to begin school later in the morning to allow teens added time to get the sleep they need before rushing off to school.
Their success resulted in the state of California passing a law which requires later school start times and it has inspired other parents to work towards the same outcomes.
Lewis wrote a book (published June 7th) explaining why it is so important for teens to get adequate sleep. Black Voice News recently spoke with her about this important subject:
Tell me a little bit about your experience and the ways you think it impacted your decision to write your book?
“Sure. It’s called the Sleep Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive. Really it is an outgrowth of my involvement in the issue of teen sleep deprivation and the link between that and school start times that I have been working on for the past seven years.
The issue really hit my radar back in 2015. That August, my oldest started high school. I have two kids, ages 17- and 21 years-old. In our local district the start time for high school was 7:30 in the morning. That felt very early to me. I am not a morning person [and] it quickly became obvious my son was not a morning person either.
I was driving him to school every day (at that point he didn’t drive) and leaving the house very early in the morning to get him there and I could just look over [see] he was barely awake. I mean his body was there but I would not say his mind was alert and ready to learn. . . then he would come home and he was just really wiped out. It was pretty obvious that it was not an optimal start time. As a parent, I noticed it, but as a parent and journalist, I decided to start looking into the issue and to try and understand why it was that our schools started so early.”
You realized quickly this was an issue much bigger than your school or your local community?
In fact there was a body of research about teen sleep and the link between that and early school start times that went back decades. I started doing more research and in some ways, the timing was actually pretty perfect because the issue was just starting to reach a critical mass.
The previous year the American Academy of Pediatrics had just released its policy statement recommending that middle and high schools start no earlier than eight thirty in the morning and that was because of the impact school start times have on teen sleep.
[In] August 2015, the CDC put out a report on school start times. This was a report where they surveyed schools around the country about what times schools were starting to essentially serve as a baseline as to when schools were starting prior to the policy statement coming out.
So what inspired your writing?
My first piece came out in the spring of my son’s freshman year. The article that really ended up making a difference in a way I could not have predicted at the time was an Op ed I wrote that ran in the Los Angeles Times in September 2016 called Why Schools Should Start Later in the Morning.
It just so happens it was read by one of our California State Senators Anthony Portantino and he had high schoolers–his daughter’s school was having conversations about school start times– so it was an issue that resonated with him. He read my Op ed, he decided he wanted to look into the issue first, and as a part of that reached out to a group called Start School Later, a national non profit.
As it turned out, I had already started a local chapter of Start School Later as a part of my local efforts. In addition to his office getting more information on the issue they actually put him in touch with all the local chapter leaders of which I was one. He ended up introducing a bill on this topic.
The legislation was introduced in February 2017. Lewis and a small core group of volunteers and sleep advocates became very involved in the process. Even testifying in front of the California State Committee on Education. After a two and a half year journey (the bill was initially vetoed) it was eventually signed into law. The law will go into effect in July. The legislation is the first of its kind in the country to require all the state’s middle schools to begin no earlier than 8:00 a.m. for middle school and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
According to Lewis, teens are operating on a different internal clock. At puberty their circadian rhythms shift, which means their sleep timing shifts accordingly.
What are the negative effects of lack of sleep on teens?
It’s a huge issue of how it affects mental health, mental health rates have worsened. Rates of depression are higher, rates of anxiety are higher, suicidality rates go up, actual suicide rates go up..so across the board there are some very very serious issues that come from being sleep deprived.
How can a parent help their child have a restful night’s sleep?
There are a number of ways to set the stage for a good night’s sleep. Making sleep a priority–encouraging your teens to develop a “wind down” routine [because] you can’t just flip off your brain like you do your computer. Have some transition time–get off tech at least an hour before bedtime.