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Kids aren't getting enough sleep, and it's a big problem. But there's a simple solution.

Last year, the American Association of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for school start times.

Kids aren't getting enough sleep, and it's a big problem. But there's a simple solution.

Sleep is the only activity you do by pretending you're already doing it.

Think about it. Weird, right? Anyway, sleep is also really important. Without sleep, you'd be, well, uh, not living. So, for the sake of your mental and physical health, emotional well-being, and existence, it's important to make sure you're getting enough of it.


Plus, sleep is awesome. GIF from USA TODAY.

Most of us aspire to get enough sleep (but don't). And if we're lucky, we can control our schedules, avoid nicotine, and avoid caffeine. Sleep-related problems and habits, however, can be a learned condition over time. For this and other reasons, it's time we had a little chat about how to break those habits early in life.

Kids aren't getting enough sleep. This is actually a big problem.

The National Sleep Foundation (yes, this is a thing that exists; no, I hadn't heard of it, either) found that 87% of U.S. high schoolers were getting less than the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep on weeknights. The numbers weren't much better for junior high students.

What's the big deal? Well, chronic sleep loss has some nasty effects, especially on adolescents. For example, it's been know to lead to lower test scores, decreased ability to concentrate, shorter attention spans, and less ability to retain information. And, given that succeeding at school requires pretty much the polar opposite of those symptoms, we should probably try to figure out how to make sure kids get the sleep they need.

Your average American high schooler, basically. GIF from "Arrested Development."

Some schools have a really simple, obvious solution: Start classes later.

A few school districts here and there have bumped back start times in recent years for the sake of students' zzz's, but the Seattle School Board just became one of the largest districts in the country to push start times later than 8:30 a.m.

"The proposal to change bell times is the result of a research-based community initiative," the district's teachers union told the Seattle Times. "It will improve learning, health and equity for thousands of Seattle students."

And hopefully create an environment where they don't dread school as much as Bart Simpson. GIF from "The Simpsons."

But wait, won't students just stay up later at night? Actually, no!

That was another fascinating aspect of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation — simply trying to get kids to go to bed earlier so they can wake up for earlier classes doesn't actually solve the sleep problem.

What they found was that in schools that bumped start times back, students didn't tend to stay up any later. This is because part of the reason teenagers stay up later than pre-adolescents is their changing biology, not simply some rebellious choice to stay up.

Kids don't want to go to school like this. Help them get the sleep they need so they don't have to. GIF from "Monsters, Inc."

This all sounds great, right? So why aren't more schools doing it?

While the American Association of Pediatrics has put out its recommendation, it's up to individual states and individual school districts to actually implement it.

Earlier this year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced the "ZZZ's to A's Act" in Congress. The bill would direct the Department of Education to study the effects of later start times in schools and issue findings and recommendations to Congress for potential action.

"Students across the United States are not getting enough sleep at night — this affects not just their academic performance, but their health, safety, and well-being," said Rep. Lofgren in a press release. "We know that as kids become teens their biology keeps them from getting to sleep early, makes it harder for them to wake up early in the morning, and necessitates additional sleep at night."

Unfortunately, the bill — the first variation of which was introduced way back in 1998 — is stuck in Congress. Still, it's good to know there are legislators looking to improve the school experience for students across the country.

Take it from these well-rested stock photo models! Photo from iStock.

While it doesn't look like a national solution is coming anytime soon, there are things you can do.

Try going to your local school board meetings and ask that they consider the American Association of Pediatrics recommendations. Who knows? Maybe your district will follow Seattle's lead!

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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