Best of Both Worlds podcast: Kids, teens, and sleep with sleep expert Lisa Lewis

If you have teenagers, or you remember your own teenage years, you can probably recall an inclination to stay up later and sleep later in the morning. It’s not just rebellious teen behavior. It turns out that in puberty, the body’s sleep schedule naturally shifts from that of little kids, who seem to wake at the crack of dawn.

That’s a problem with modern school schedules. In many districts, in order to use fewer buses, high school will start around 7:30 a.m., with middle school after that (8:15 in my district) and then elementary school around 9. This is the exact opposite of kids’ natural sleep patterns, and the result is that many teens are chronically sleep deprived during the week, and crashing on weekends to make it up. This has all sorts of negative health implications, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools not start before 8:30 a.m.

In this episode of Best of Both Worlds, I interview Lisa Lewis, author of The Sleep Deprived Teen. She wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times several years ago that was instrumental in getting California to pass a law putting that medical guidance into practice. She talks about why this matters, and answers some of the common objections to starting later (on everything from buses to sports schedules).

My district is still one of the ones that is not “following the science” in this regard. I wake my teen up around 6:30 a.m. most days (6:15 if he needs to take the bus because there is only one adult in the house). In order to protect 8-8.5 hours to sleep, we enforce a no-device after 9 p.m. rule, and I aim to turn off the lights between 9:40 and 10 p.m. Since the middle schoolers need to get up at 7 a.m., they also have the 9 p.m. no device rule, with 10 p.m. lights out (to protect 9 hours to sleep). I’m pretty laid back on a lot of things with parenting, but this is a hard line.

When does high school start in your district? If you’ve shifted to a later schedule recently, please share how that came to happen.

In lieu of a Q&A we share a listener tip for how to keep breakfast from being a battle. This listener’s kids sit down and set a 5-day repeating menu for the next few months (Maple Monday, Toast Tuesday, Waffle Wednesday…etc.).

Please give the episode a listen, and as always, we really appreciate ratings and reviews!

6 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Kids, teens, and sleep with sleep expert Lisa Lewis

  1. This year our district changed the school start times. High schools now start at 8:30am they changed the middle and elementary school times accordingly. Middle schools start at 8:05am and elementary school starts at 7:30am to allow not act like a headless chicken. Wednesdays are early release, but high schools don’t do that, instead, they start at 9:30am!
    I am not an early riser at all, so I appreciate this very much. When house hunting, my number one condition had been to be in walking/biking distance to elem/middle/high schools, because no way I could (would!) drive my kids to school every day (which adds up to 16 years total due to kids’ age difference). We all need sleep.

  2. My mind still boggles at this. In Belgium, where I grew up, the earliest school would start was 8:20, but after a couple of years this was 9AM.

  3. It would be hard for me to have five different rotations of breakfast food during the week! Wow! I only have two options for my school-age kids: oatmeal or a bagel/toast with lots of butter (and jam). I usually cook a big pot of steel-cut oatmeal on Sunday and we eat it every day of the week with different toppings like raisings, cranberries, dried dates/apricots, coconut flakes, bananas, etc. Then on the weekends, we usually put together a nice brunch with eggs, bacon, pancakes or waffles, etc.

  4. We have a 10th grader whose first class starts at 7:10 am. He is up at 5:15 or so and thankfully my husband drives him – they leave at 6:25 (before my alarm goes off at 6:30). I am looking forward to listening to this interview.

    1. @Jammy – whoa, that is early! But I distinctly remember going to “zero hour” back in high school in order to sing in another choir so I’m pretty sure that I was up early too…

      1. @Laura, choir kept you moving, and didn’t require complex calculations when the sun was barely up – or even before! Since you’re a morning person, think about how well you’d focus at 11pm every day… And we wonder why teens’ mental health is suffering? As hard as virtual school was, my kids were a lot less grouchy when they didn’t have to be online until 9am. With 7:45am starts (bus comes 6:50am), they’re easily frustrated and overwhelmed.
        Have you checked out There may be a local chapter you can join to encourage your kids’ district to follow the advice of pediatricians!

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