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What happens when American teens get more sleep

California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with 7th grade students at James Denman Middle School on October 01, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with 7th grade students at James Denman Middle School on October 01, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

America’s teens aren’t sleeping nearly enough. Early school start times aren’t helping.

“Because I have to get up so early, I’m still tired when I get home from school and end up falling asleep for three or four hours,” Kayla, a high school freshman says.

“And I don’t like falling asleep at that time because I want to do stuff and get my homework done and spend time with my family.”

So some states are pushing back the school day, and starting later.

“Changing school start times is the single biggest policy change that can be made that can have, and has been shown to have a real impact,” parenting journalist Lisa L. Lewis says.

But an impact on what, exactly?

Today, On Point: Synchronizing the teen body clock and school start times.

Guests

Lisa L. Lewis, parenting journalist. Author of The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive. (@LewisLisaL)

Also Featured

Amy and Stokeley Wexler, mother and son from Columbia, MO.

Zoe Lofgren, Democratic member of Congress from California. (@RepZoeLofgren)

Vivian Song Maritz, member of the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors. (@viviansong)

Transcript: Rep. Zoe Lofgren on her political fight to better understand teen sleep

This year, California became the first state in the country to issue a statewide mandate to push school start times back to 8:30 a.m.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Now, it should come as no surprise that California became the first state to do this, because one of its representatives has been banging the drum about teen sleep since the mid-1990s.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Actually, it was when my children became teenagers and my wonderful daughter, who was so responsible, and loved school and ended up being valedictorian of her high school class, all of a sudden … she couldn’t get up. And I thought, what is going on? Am I a bad mother? I mean, What’s going on here?

CHAKRABARTI: That’s California Democrat Representative Zoe Lofgren. She represents San Jose, parts of Silicon Valley, and further south toward Monterey Bay. Representative Lofgren says she started asking around, talking to researchers who at that time, again in the mid-90s, were just beginning to understand how different teens’ sleep needs were from adult sleep needs.

Lofgren decided that later school times could be an effective way that government could ensure teens got more sleep. So in 1994, like any freshman congresswoman would do, she wrote a bill.

LOFGREN: I came up with the names, Z’s to A’s, to study the impact of early school time on adolescents and their sleep. And when the bill was introduced, it got a stir. I mean, people would call in from various radio shows and stimulate the discussion. And some school districts, you know, the Congress of the United States doesn’t have the authority to tell schools what time they should start.

We do have the authority to study the issue, but a lot of school districts decided to change. And when they did, for example, in Minnesota, there were a lot of changes, and things improved.

CHAKRABARTI: To be clear, Representative Lofgren’s proposal to study teen sleep and school start times did not pass in 1994. She’s introduced it almost every year since. It still hasn’t passed. But that doesn’t bother Lofgren.

She says she’s using the proposal more as a tool to generate awareness about the issue. Especially since back in the ’90s, and now, Lofgren … hears people balking at the idea that teens should sleep in.

LOFGREN: I can remember a couple of people saying, well, you know, kick them in the rear, get them up. And it’s like, well, wait a minute. I mean, it’s not easy being a teen. We all were at one time. And I think anything we can do to promote the health and safety of teenagers is a good thing.

There’s controversy about changing it to a later date. But I can recall, when I was in high school, it didn’t start at 7 a.m. And it just gradually got earlier and earlier. Nobody studied that.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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