Episode 3: Smells Like Teen Spirit
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It’s Monday morning, and you once again find yourself knocking on your teen’s door, shouting, “You’re going to be late for school!” You might wonder what he’s doing in there. You might even think he’s just messing with you.
Nope! Your teen’s circadian rhythm works differently than yours, meaning he’s not being lazy – it really is hard for teens to wake up early. But our school system, our work culture, and basically everything about our daily life operates antagonistically to your kid’s natural body clock. In this episode, Dr. Harris talks with journalist Lisa L. Lewis, author of The Sleep-Deprived Teen, about why it’s so important for teens to get at least eight hours of sleep per night, how later school start times could help them get better sleep, and how sleep deprivation impacts their health and performance in school. Plus, they provide actionable tips you can use today to help your sleep-deprived teen take back his sleep routine and start getting more rest.
- The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive
- Study: Engaging the Community in the Process of Changing School Start Times: Experience in the Cherry Creek School District
- American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 Position Statement: School Start Times for Adolescents
- Op-Ed: Why School Should Start Later in the Day
Dr. Shelby: Welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby, where we really want to know how are you sleeping? Really, are you sleeping?
Two-thirds of Americans wake up feeling groggy and weird, wondering why they were up at three in the morning, wondering if there’s something wrong with them. If that sounds like you, you have come to the right place.
I’m Dr. Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist, and I’m the Director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis, where we dive deep into all things sleep so you can get the rest that you deserve.
Today, we’re talking about sleep needs for teenagers, in an episode we’re calling Smells Like Teen Spirit. How does your teenager’s natural body clock function?
Why is it different than your own? And what can schools be doing to help? Parents, if your teenager’s up till one in the morning and sleeps till noon, please know you are not alone. This is natural at this point in their lives, and today we’ll discuss how to get them back on track. To help out, we’ve invited Lisa L. Lewis, author of The Sleep Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive.
Described as a call to action by Arianna Huffington and an urgent and timely read by Daniel H. Pink, her book, which was reviewed by The New York Times, is an outgrowth of her previous work on the topic, including her role helping get California’s landmark law on healthy school start times passed.
Lisa lives in California with her family, where she writes and speaks on wellness, parenting, education, and among many other things, sleep. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby.
Lisa L. Lewis: Thanks so much for having me.
DS: As we know, this is a topic we’ve talked about in the past, and I absolutely love your book and recommend it all the time. Let’s start with you telling us a little bit about yourself and your experience working with teenagers and sleep.
LLL: Absolutely, and thank you, first of all, for those kind words. So I am a parent and I’m also a parenting journalist. And so those roles really coalesced about eight years ago. So that is really when my journey into this whole world of teen sleep began, because that was when my oldest, my son, was just entering high school.
So 2015, August of 2015, He started his ninth grade year at our local public high school, which at that point started at 7:30 in the morning.
LLL: And it was so early, it was the earliest he had ever had to go to school all the way through his whole, you know, school career. He’d never had a start time that early.
And it quickly became obvious that that was just too early across the board. It was too early for us as a family. It was too early for him. I was the one driving him to school every day, and he was sitting there next to me. His eyes were open, but he was hardly alert.
LLL: He was quiet and subdued, and he was not really in what I would call, you know, great shape to be sending off for a full day of learning and after school activities. It was just too early.
So, of course, I put on my reporter hat and I started trying to, you know, figure out the answer to some questions like, why did our school district start so early? Were we unique in doing so? And, of course, found out that no, we were not unique. This was the case in so many districts around the country.
Our 7:30 start time had been in place for decades. And even more importantly, the previous year, 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics had just released its very influential policy statement recommending that middle and high school start no earlier than 8:30 in the morning. So we were nowhere in range.
So, as you know… all of the research, and literally it goes back decades, shows that when schools start later, teens get more sleep. And of course we can, I’m sure we’re going to delve into all those reasons why. But that sort of is what propelled me in was my own experience in my district, looking at all the research, [and I] started writing about it.
And one of the pieces that I wrote was an op-ed that ran in the Los Angeles Times the following year, September of 2016. So my son’s sophomore year, it was called, Why School Should Start Later in the Day. And that op-ed happened to be read by one of our California state senators.
LLL: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was fortuitous. So State Senator Anthony Portantino, whose district is in Los Angeles. And at that point, he actually had a high schooler of his own and it just so happened their high school was having conversations about start times. So this piece just landed perfectly with him. He read it in the newspaper and decided to look into the issue further with an eye toward introducing a bill on the topic.
And that is exactly what happened. I got pulled in even before that bill was officially introduced, which was back in early 2017. And I just sort of got immersed in the whole legislative journey.
And I call it a journey because it was two and a half years, [and it] got vetoed the first time by the governor. And then we had a change in governors.
And so it was Governor Gavin Newsom who did finally sign that into law in 2019. Then there was a three-year implementation window and that law finally went into effect in July of 2022. So this is only the second school year that we’ve had that law in effect. And we were, as you mentioned, the first state in the entire country to have a law setting minimum allowed start times.
DS: And now other states are starting to kind of go along with that. Would you agree?
LLL: Well, so we have had, we’ve had a couple of significant things. The first is that Florida is actually the second state to have signed a similar bill into law. That just happened. But again, three-year implementation window, so that does not go into effect until 2026.
There, there are other states that have similar bills that are in process. New York, New Jersey, Texas. So my hope is that we do start to see momentum on this bill, and it really does feel like we have finally hit that point. Because there have been legislative attempts in the past. But none of them had actually come to fruition.
California was the first to do so. And then, of course, being the largest state, we are often a bellwether. And so it does seem like that has helped in terms of helping build that critical mass.
DS: Now, I mean, unbelievable, first of all, to start it in California and to get it passed. Now, before we even get to talking about – because there’s so many other states that aren’t even there yet, and how people can on the local level even start to make change – let’s talk about why it’s necessary to do that.
So… how are sleep needs different for teenagers? Versus say adults or even elementary school and middle school or young middle school kids?
LLL: Yeah, absolutely. And these are such great questions because I think this information is not that widely known. And so I will just mention quickly because I was immersed in all of this during that whole legislative journey and, you know, testifying up in the state capitol, et cetera, and talking with all the researchers around the country.
That was literally why I ended up writing the book that I wrote, The Sleep-Deprived Teen because I wrote it for the me of 2015, when I was just starting on this journey. Because so many people don’t really understand how sleep changes when our kids hit the teen years and all of the many profound ways that it affects their health and well-being, and all the things that we can do to be helping them.
So in terms of the first question you asked: Absolutely, our kids have a different sleep schedule when they’re younger than they do when they hit adolescence. Because of that circadian rhythm change that happens when they enter puberty, shifting that whole sleep wake cycle later. So, and I’m sure you can obviously add more to this, but melatonin, the hormone that primes us to start feeling sleepy, begins to be released later in the evening when our kids hit adolescence and also doesn’t subside until later in the morning compared to when it used to.
So that’s why when you’ve got a six year old and they’re ready to bound out of bed at 6:30 in the morning and you don’t see that same, you know, kid, once they hit say 16, bounding out of bed. Because they are not feeling ready to wake. Biologically there is this change that has happened. It’s not just that they’re being lazy and wanting to sleep in. There is this fundamental change in their entire sleep wake cycle.
DS: Yeah. And I think the thing that’s interesting is that a lot of people will argue, “Well, why don’t you just have them stop the screens and go to bed earlier?” And to some extent that can be done, but this shift for teenagers is so dramatic for some of them that yes, stopping screens is not – if your melatonin onset is not happening until biologically later, there’s no way to fake yourself into going to sleep earlier in an easy way.
I mean, it’s just naturally, biologically, what happens. Now for elementary school kids, sometimes they go to bed later and they want to wake up later, but it’s actually easier to get them to go to bed earlier. So when we look at the school start times historically, what has it always been? It’s been elementary schools later and then the high schools earlier.
So it’s the exact opposite, it sounds like, from what their biology is doing, correct?
LLL: Absolutely. Yeah. And I call these legacy schedules because that’s exactly what they are. I mean, that was the case in my district. They’re – literally, when I went around talking to people, nobody could remember a time when the high school hadn’t started so early.
And to your point, a lot of these schedules, when they were first put in place, did put the elementary school kids in the latest time slot. The high schoolers in the earliest, thinking, Oh, well, they’re, you know, older, they should be better able to handle it. So really the impetus for these early start times for our high schoolers, by and large came about because of bus transportation concerns. It was not because of student well-being, it was not to be family friendly, you know, none of those. It was because they, in many cases, districts from a budget perspective had decided it made the most sense to use one fleet of buses and stagger those drop off and pickup times for elementary, middle, and high.
And at that point, when they were putting these schedules in place, this research on teen sleep was not widely known. And so, as I mentioned, all too often the teens by default got put in that earliest slot thinking they’re better able to handle it. Now, of course, we know that is the exact opposite, but in so many cases, these legacy times have endured.
DS: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, I, when I was in college, Dr. Mary Carskadon, who’s a giant in the field, is really the person credited with seeing this shift in teenagers. That’s been around for decades, but it’s interesting that now, like, thanks to the work of you and other advocates, we’re finally talking about it.
It’s like we needed to get the word out in sleep medicine. Now, what would you say, given that school start times have been historically so early for so many. Do you think teens, like, how much sleep have they been losing over the years, given the school start times?
LLL: Yeah, that’s, well and that’s exactly it because the real issue is that they are sleep deprived and school start times are such a driver of that.
LLL: So this sleep deprivation issue dates back decades. So that’s one thing getting back to the tech piece that you mentioned because it predates smartphones. So we can’t just say, oh, it’s because they’re on their phones too much. I mean, that’s not to say that being on your phone too late at night or playing a video game until 2 a.m. isn’t going to cut into your sleep because of course it is. You can, there are many ways you could sabotage your sleep.
However, the prime driver and especially looking from a public policy perspective, the prime driver of teens not getting enough sleep are these start times. So for example, the most recent data from the CDC, from their youth risk behavior survey shows that on school nights, only 23 percent of high schoolers are getting at least eight hours of sleep.
And that’s the minimum. So this is the other piece when you talk about, you know, sort of those misconceptions that are out there, which in so many cases, I think. It isn’t as widely known that our teens should be getting eight to ten hours of sleep every night for optimal functioning. That is more than we need as adults.
DS: Oh yeah. And it’s even, and eight is on the low end. I mean, I have a lot of teens who need nine, nine and a half hours and they’re not even getting close to that. When people hear eight, they laugh.
LLL: Oh, absolutely. And eight to 10 is a range because, of course, you know, human variability. But when you think about the fact that less than a fourth of teens are even hitting that minimum on school nights, it gives you a sense of how widespread this issue is.
DS: And it’s interesting. I wonder how much they’re getting on the weekend then if they’re losing so much during the week.
LLL: Yeah, absolutely. Because then, of course, human nature, you want to try and catch up. But that whole issue of catching up is, you know, you can’t really do that. You know, when you think about eating, for example: If you’re not eating enough during the week, you don’t just make it up on the weekends. And you can’t truly make up that whole amount of sleep debt that you’ve accumulated over the course of the week by doing some marathon sleep session on the weekends.
And then, of course, if you do, if you sleep in till noon on Sunday, well, [that] makes it that much harder to get to bed at a reasonable hour Sunday night. And then of course, [that] makes it that much harder to wake up Monday morning and you just end up perpetuating the cycle.
DS: Yeah. And I think the other thing to note too, is that teens are not just smaller adults, right? So once you become an adult and you start to get into your late twenties, thirties, that circadian rhythm that shifts from really early as a kid to then late as a teen, then starts to shift back earlier, a little bit again. So it’s not like, you know, you can tell your teen like, “Well, I go to bed early, why can’t you do this?” It doesn’t work that way.
How do you think it’s impacting their health overall? The sleep loss that they’re having?
LLL: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. It has effects across the board. So when you think about, well, health specifically, I think the biggest piece is mental health.
LLL: And which is such a huge issue for our teens, especially these last few years. When our teens aren’t getting enough sleep, their emotions run hotter. And that is true for all of us, not just our teens. You know, we’re all more reactive and impulsive when we haven’t gotten enough sleep. But our teens are less well equipped to cope with sleep loss.
So this gets back to the fact that they’re still growing and developing. They’re in the midst, actually, in adolescence, of a major phase of brain development.
LLL: Focused on pruning and remodeling. And that has to do with pruning out the excess neurons because there was a surplus created when the brain was initially developed. And that process of pruning is taking place over the course of adolescence. The other piece of that remodeling is about improving the connections between the neurons so that they will have faster processing. In fact, one of the neuroscientists I interviewed for the book compared it to upgrading from a dirt road to a paved freeway.
DS: It’s so true.
LLL: Yeah, it really gets across, you know, how much brain development is taking place during those adolescent years. So all of that is not fully complete until, well, it’s not even just the end of adolescence, really until the early twenties.
LLL: And once it’s done, our teens are able to behave less impulsively, to focus their attention more effectively and make better decisions. And then how that ties back to the mental health piece I was mentioning, because their brain is not yet fully mature, so they don’t yet have, for instance, a fully mature prefrontal cortex to help temper that increased impulsivity, those increased emotions that they’re feeling.
So they’re less well equipped to deal with it. And when they’re sleep deprived, it exacerbates all sorts of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and even suicidality.
DS: Yeah. And I think the other thing to note too is that people ask, “Well, why is this happening?” You had a great explanation. And the other piece of that too is that when you’re cutting off sleep for these teens, we’re often cutting it off in the early morning. And those few hours are when you get the most density of REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep. And that stage of sleep is what is super important for emotion processing. And if they’re not getting the REM that they need, that explains a lot of this emotional ability. The kind of trouble with decision making and impulsivity that happens in a lot of these teens.
We’re just setting them up for, for more, more of a challenge to really do all that because we’re cutting off their REM periods in the morning.
LLL: Yes, absolutely.
DS: Any medical issues that we see happen, like injury rates, athletics, all that sort of stuff? And do you, do you notice anything or have you seen any research about that over the years with the sleep deprivation?
LLL: Yes, absolutely. So as I mentioned, you know, sleep deprivation has these harmful effects across the board. There are absolutely, well, and there’s another one too, of course, which is school performance, which we can talk about in a bit. But when it comes to sports, sleep is a competitive advantage is the take home message for all those parents of athletes who might be listening.
So absolutely, when you are sleep deprived, it affects coordination, it affects response time, it increases your risk for injuries. It also means if you’re sleep deprived after having gotten injured, that it’s going to take longer to heal because growth hormone, which promotes not just growth, but also healing, is released primarily when our teens are asleep.
From a public health standpoint, drowsy driving is a huge one. When you think about it, our teen drivers are already the most dangerous drivers out there on the road because they’re new drivers. They don’t have the experience we do and crash risk is the highest for 16 to 19 year olds compared to any other age group.
So they’re already the most dangerous. They’re already prone to distracted driving. They’re still learning. They don’t yet have the judgment, you know, that comes with experience. And then you layer in sleep deprivation on top of that. And you can see why that’s a real, real issue. So, so in, in fact, getting back to the school start time issue.
Studies have shown repeatedly that when schools start later, teens get more sleep. And they’ve also done studies looking at crash rates and seeing that, yes, there is a positive impact in terms of those rates going down when our teens are not so sleepy when they’re getting out there on the roads.
DS: Are they starting to have data come out of California, given it’s still only, what, two years in? Are you starting to see stuff happen there?
LLL: You know, I have not seen anything yet, and I’m so eager to see those kind of results. As you know, it’s often the outside groups that come in and do this, this kind of research. But, you know, time and time again, research done in all these other districts has shown repeatedly that when the schools do shift to later start times, the teens get more sleep.
One of the terrific examples of this, in fact, was out of the Denver area. Cherry Creek District, which is a suburb there, is a pretty large district. They’ve got about 55,000 kids in the district. So they changed their start times in 2017 and their high schools used to start at 7:10 in the morning.
They moved it to 8:20 and they found that as a result afterwards kids were getting about 45 to 50 minutes more sleep each night. Which is huge.
DS: Yeah, and if anybody’s interested in that, that’s all by Dr. Lisa Meltzer, a colleague of mine. She’s wonderful and documented how they did that in the town. It’s really, and you can get that, those journal articles pretty easily online. So, definitely look up that.
LLL: Yeah, Dr. Meltzer has, is terrific. In fact, she’s somebody that I interviewed for the book and she played a huge role in getting those start times changed. And I know you too have been an advocate in your district.
DS: Yeah, I mean, I, I was kind of lucky in that it was, and we’ll talk about this even more in detail, like there’s so many roadblocks that people come up against. But in my district, I live in a small town in Westchester County, New York. And we were lucky in that, the weird way, the silver lining of the pandemic was that the middle school and the high school, especially the high school, started at nine in the morning during the height of the pandemic.
And there had been some talk with the superintendent. I had been talking to him a bit over the years about potentially doing later school start times, but they were hesitant about it. But with the 9 a.m. start time of the pandemic online, and then it started to get in person, the teachers started to notice the students were more with it. They were more cognitively aware when they were in class. They were more focused. And the parents were noticing it was easier for the students to get out the door. And their kids, and then also the kids themselves, the teens, were saying, “This is so much better. I feel so much better. I’m learning so much better,” that that really got the ball rolling and I was able to help the superintendent make a case for really getting it to be changed.
And we [switched] – a little less drastic – but we flipped the elementary school, which was at 8:30. And then the middle and high schools were at 7:50. We flipped them. So it was definitely a challenge for the elementary school parents to now have a 7:50 time to start school. But they adjusted, and now we’re two years in as well. And it’s been going really well.
LLL: Oh, that’s fabulous. Yeah.
DS: Yeah. So how do you make that case? Like we talked about some of the research, but how could you make the case to parents that they need to help their teens get good sleep and get more sleep?
LLL: So I think there’s a couple things to keep in mind when you’re looking at teen sleep. The first is, of course, school start times are really the primary driver of what time they have to wake up in the morning. But then parents can also be looking at what happens at night in terms of what time their kids are going to bed.
LLL: So we were talking about melatonin being released on a later schedule so that teens in general aren’t really feeling sleepy until about 11 o’clock at night. However, in so many cases, they’re not even getting to bed at that hour. They’re up much later because of, you know, their, their other commitments. So that also can play into it. So I think that there are a number of ways that parents can help.
So the first is if you are in a district where your middle or high schools start too early, helping raise awareness about the fact that that is an issue. That’s, you know, not in keeping with these guidelines that 8:30 or later is really what should be done and, and also just helping educate others about the issue.
So, for instance, in California, the California State PTA was a huge partner of ours in helping get this bill passed. In fact, we got them to sign on as an official co-sponsor of this bill.
LLL: Well, because the PTA is all about kids’ health and well-being, and this very much is about that.
DS: Yeah, makes sense.
LLL: So, I would suggest, you know, if you’re in a state that does not have a law like this that has been passed, so if you’re not in California or Florida, if your state has a law that is already sort of being looked at, getting involved in that effort certainly helps. But you can also try at the local level, you can team [up] with the PTA, hold an awareness night, you know, a PTA night on teen sleep, where you can bring in somebody to talk about just some of these basics.
The fact that teens do need eight to ten hours a night. The fact that no, they’re not being lazy when they don’t want to get up in the morning. It has to do with the circadian rhythm shift, sort of educating people on the basics. On all of the ramifications when teens are sleep deprived. I think it really starts with that, with helping build that level of awareness in order to make the case.
So that, that, and that’s for the start time piece, but then of course, there are all the other kinds of things, you know, you can look at in the evening, which I was alluding to. And of course we can talk about those too.
DS: Yeah. But like, let’s start, I mean, I think it’s an interesting point to bring up is that so many people will say, “Well, there’s sports, there’s homework, there’s all these extracurriculars that kids..” I mean, some parents are worried. I mean, many are worried about college and what the next steps are that they have their kids so over-scheduled that there’s no time for sleep. So how do you deal with that aspect?
LLL: Yeah, yeah. And that’s a tricky one. Overscheduling absolutely is often part of the mix. So when I present, that’s in fact one of the suggestions that I have is that parents can do this, teens can do this on their own, really just to take a look at all of those time commitments.
So our kids have the hours that they are in school, every day, but then they have homework for each and every class. Generally speaking, that homework load is going to be a heavier load if they’re taking advanced or honors level classes. So to try and map out where all those waking hours are going. How many for school? How many for homework once you, you know, add in for all those classes? And then whatever extracurriculars they have at school. Out of school. Things like club sports. Whether they have a job. And just sort of adding up all of those hours and looking at the cumulative total.
Because if you do that and you see that there’s not even a window of eight to ten hours left in the schedule to give them the opportunity to be able to get enough sleep. Then it may be time to reevaluate.
DS: Yeah, I mean, sleep is the thing that’s going to help them do well at all those other things. And if they’re not getting it, then good luck with all that.
LLL: Oh, absolutely. And so often sleep is the piece that sort of gets pushed to the bottom. Yeah. When everything else is being thought about. And so it is so important because our kids need, I should have mentioned, not just the eight- to 10-hour window, but they also need a little bit of time to be able to eat. They need a little bit of downtime. So if they’re so tightly scheduled that that sleep has gotten squeezed to that degree. Yeah, to your point, they are, in fact, likely doing more harm than good.
DS: And how has, like, a state like California, because I know one issue in my town – bussing was one issue, but there was also issue with sports and with, you know, sports going later. And then when it starts getting dark earlier. How have they managed to do that? I guess they made it happen somehow in a lot of the districts.
LLL: I mean, really the same issues come up again and again, wherever this is proposed and, and they are, as you mentioned, transportation. It’s sports and then it’s also more broadly a general resistance to change. Because in so many cases these schedules have been in place for so long and change is not always convenient.
There are so many kind of wraparound things that have built up around the school schedule. And as parents, we have had to construct our lives around these school schedules. I can vividly remember still, you know, both my kids are now, you know, my, my youngest just graduated high school, but I can still vividly remember when they were in elementary school. And the day ended at 1:52 every single day. And I had to be there or I had to have arranged after-school care for them.
And then that schedule shifted after elementary school to a different schedule for middle school and then a different one for high school. So we already have to keep readjusting as our kids move through the system. Those schedules are not family friendly to begin with. So often it’s just the thought of yet one more change, having to adjust. And so there’s sort of this visceral reaction like, Oh God, no, not another change.
So there’s that piece, which is real. There is the transportation piece, and in many cases, as you mentioned, it can literally be a flip of the schedule where the, you know, the elementary kids have been starting later. You can flip that.
The caveat being though, some districts have as early as 7 a.m. start times in place for high schools. No kid should be starting that early. So then you really get into, let’s look at what’s, what actually makes sense for our kids, not just for our buses.
LLL: And, and then finally the sports piece, which again comes up, but I should mention these issues come up in virtually every district or community where start times have been changed and these issues are valid and they also continue to be successfully addressed in these communities.
LLL: So, so you look at sports. Yeah. You push things back a little bit later in the day. It may require things like sharing fields for practices. If you’re talking about practices after school, you may be able to shave a little bit of the time between when the school day ends, when the practice begins, you might be able to shave a little bit of time off the practice.
But just bearing in mind too that, you know, sports are not the primary thing our kids are doing in school. They are there to learn. And not only is their sports, you know, ability being impacted when they’re sleep deprived, But their ability in school to be able to perform well and to thrive. And that’s really the prime driver that when we get back to it, that’s really what we need to be keeping in mind. What is best for our kids?
DS: Yeah. And it’s not about flipping, which, I’ve heard some people tell me that their districts flip the sports so that they now practice in the morning. It’s like, okay, before school starts and now you’ve just totally disregarded the point of having them start school later.
LLL: Absolutely. Yeah. And in fact, there are districts, I spoke to one superintendent, I think this was in Maine, and when they implemented later times, he also forbade before school sports practices for exactly that reason.
DS: Yeah. It’s really common. What do you think would be something that you wish everyone knew about teen sleep?
LLL: I think what I would say is to recognize how important sleep is for our teens. For them to be getting those eight to ten hours, but how important it is for all of us. And so I really, I think that my take-home message is to make sleep a family priority.
So for us as adults to work with our teens and try and figure out if they are chronically sleep deprived, what’s factoring into that. And it is, as I mentioned, the start times, but there can also be ways we can help our teens addressing this overscheduling issue. Helping encourage them to develop wind down routines. Not being on tech until lights out. Talking to them about what are the challenges they’re facing and trying to work with them and recognize, especially when you’re talking about teens, it’s going to be an ongoing conversation. It’s not going to be just laying down the law. That doesn’t tend to go over really well with teens.
DS: No. And I love that you said it’s, you know, we all need to think about getting more sleep, even as adults. And one of the things that I often say when I have a teen in my office that’s struggling with sleep and the parents are like help them get more sleep. I often say to the parents, they don’t want to hear it many times as we need to model it for them.
Absolutely. Yes. Get an alarm clock. Don’t use your phone at all times. Don’t keep it in your bed at all. So that they see that you’re exempt from the rules, but they have to follow the rules. So we really need to set that for them so that they can see the example. Otherwise, they’re just going to think we’re essentially hypocrites and not believe us.
LLL: Absolutely. Yeah. And across the board for our teens, for us too, none of us do anything better as a result of being sleep deprived.
LLL: And then there’s also the piece of, you know, you think about when we as parents have gotten enough sleep and our teens have gotten enough sleep, it just makes everything go that much more smoothly.
DS: Yeah, for sure. What do you think would be a myth that you hear a lot about teen sleep?
LLL: There’s so many of them. So I think, well, the fact that they just need to go to bed earlier, you know, that they’re lazy. That it’s, they just need to dial down their tech use, which, you know, of course that can contribute, but that’s not generally the prime driver. The fact that they can’t really catch up on weekends.
I think maybe also just the fact that somehow it’s good for them. You hear, “Oh, well, it’s, it’s something they need to get used to for the real world, it’s helping them build endurance.”
They’re not building endurance. They’re, they’re getting by on too little sleep because they have to. They’re not learning anything as a result of it. I mean, high school is not supposed to be boot camp.
LLL: And not only that, once you get out in the, you know, quote unquote, real world, generally speaking, you don’t have a, you know, a desk job that requires you to be at your desk at 7:00 or 7:30 every single day or you’re going to get marked absent or tardy or truant, you know? And not everyone works a desk job either.
You don’t have to be training for anything like, like a you know, super early start time. What you need to be doing is focusing on wellbeing and helping our kids do well in school so they can graduate and thrive and become productive members of society.
DS: So we’ve mentioned your book, The Sleep-Deprived Teen, which, as I said, I absolutely love, and it’s available in print or audiobook. So podcast listeners, we’ll drop a link to The Sleep-Deprived Teen in our show notes so you can check it out.
And I see you’re on Instagram once in a while too.
LLL: Yes, yes, and I love what you are doing on Instagram. Speaking of Instagram, shout out to you, because you have done such an amazing job there.
DS: I’m trying. I’m trying to get that evidence based kind of sleep education out there. So thank you. And thank you, like I said, to really helping with this cause because I think in sleep medicine, we have a little bit of an issue with getting the word out there. Because we’ve known about the sleep issue for teens for years, but I’m so glad that more people can be out there talking about it such as yourself. So thank you.
So what [do] you think in conclusion would be, like, one or two pieces of actionable advice that a parent or a teen who is listening right now could take with them to really start this journey on helping them get more sleep.
LLL: I think that, again, if they’ve got start time issues, that’s absolutely a piece to be looking at trying to address. But that being said, of course, that’s not something people can change overnight. What we can do, though, is literally today, for tonight, be looking at what are some of those issues that may be impacting what time they’re going to bed. And that is going to vary if it’s something like overscheduling, that is a complicated issue in and of itself, but recognizing that we may need to be looking at that, that taking that one additional AP class is not going to make or break their future, but it may be really detrimentally impacting their sleep.
LLL: Following some of the official guidelines out there. So I’m sure you know, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting off of tech devices an hour before bed. Ideally not keeping them in the bedroom overnight. So the more we can work toward those, because, you know, an hour before bed, that can be a hard sell, but knowing that’s the official best practice.
So trying to get our teens to disconnect and modeling that behavior ourselves, as you mentioned. Getting them an alarm clock rather than having the phone right there at their bedside. At a minimum, if the phones are in the room, turning off notifications so that you’re not getting woken up by those in the middle of the night.
And then back to what, what I think we were talking about earlier, which is being a role model. And making sleep a priority as a family. And just sort of on an ongoing basis trying to do that.
DS: That’s super important and very challenging for a lot of parents, so… well, thank you, Lisa, so much for joining us. This has been a really wonderful conversation and I’ve loved having you as a guest and a colleague in the field. So thank you for everything you’re doing and thank you for this conversation.
LLL: Oh, thank you. Always happy to talk about sleep and love chatting with you.
DS: Thanks for listening to sleep talking with Dr. Shelby, a Sleepopolis original podcast. If you’re not routinely getting a great night’s sleep, remember to follow and subscribe for more sleep talking wherever you get your podcasts.
And for even more sleep tips, visit Sleepopolis.com and you can also visit my Instagram page @sleepdocshelby.
Today’s episode was produced and edited by Freddie Beckley. Our Head of Content is Alana Nunez. And I’m Dr. Shelby Harris. Until next time, sleep well.