Lisa L. Lewis, MS (left), is a freelance journalist and author who covers the intersection of parenting, public health and education. Her book, “The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive,” details Lewis’ journey into the world of sleep as a parent of two teens and her role in the passage of California’s landmark legislation on healthy school start times.
AAST recently spoke with Lewis about her career, legislative advocacy and what readers can expect from her book.
What made you want to specialize in parenting journalism?
I’ve been a writer for my whole career, albeit in different capacities (including many years in corporate communications). My interest in parenting journalism was spurred by my experience as a parent! I have two kids (now 17 and 21), and have published a variety of parenting-focused pieces in publications including The Atlantic, Slate and The New York Times.
How did you become involved in the sleep field, and ultimately the call for later school start times?
My interest in school start times grew out of a personal interest in the topic. When my eldest entered high school in 2015, it quickly became apparent that the 7:30 a.m. start time was a hard adjustment. It was the earliest he’d ever had to go to school, and was a full hour earlier than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. I started researching and writing about the topic, using my skills as a writer as a tool for advocacy.
What led you to participate in legislative advocacy surrounding school start times?
One of the pieces I wrote was an op-ed that ran in the Los Angeles Times in September 2016 and was read by one of our California state senators, Anthony J. Portantino. He decided to look into the issue further and ended up introducing SB 328, a state bill for later start times for California’s middle and high schools. I was quickly swept up in the process! Along with a core team of other volunteers, I spent the next couple of years supporting the bill’s eventual passage, which in my case included testifying at the state capitol, developing communications materials and contacting education reporters around the state.
How has the push for later start times progressed since the California legislation?
Momentum continues to build. California law, which went into effect on July 1, 2022, received a great deal of both national and international media coverage. There are also new studies that continue to be published regularly, adding to the significant body of research showing that when schools start later, teens get more sleep.
How do you see this movement continuing to evolve?
As of right now California is the only state in the country that sets minimum allowed start times, which means that there are still many, many opportunities to see other states enact similar laws. In fact, both New York and New Jersey currently have active state bills on the topic.
Where did the idea for “The Sleep-Deprived Teen” come from, and what can readers expect from it?
“The Sleep-Deprived Teen“ is an outgrowth of my experience working on California’s school start times law and my immersion in the topic over the last seven years. It’s basically the book I wished I’d had when my son was entering high school. It’s an actionable guide for parents and includes:
- The science of why sleep matters and how it changes during the teen years
- An overview of how sleep affects mental health, athletic performance, academic success and more
- An essential primer on how gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, and race and ethnicity can affect sleep
- An eye-opening look at technology and sleep
- A guide to making sleep-friendly changes at home and in schools to help teens
- An exclusive insider look at what it took to bring about California’s school start times law