Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider: Women’s History Month Sleep Leaders Part 4

Written by Anna Marr. Graphics by Eleanor Wales.

March is Women’s History Month! Project Sleep is proud to celebrate the vital role of women in the sleep community through a series of feature profiles.

Meet Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider!

Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Start School Later—a powerful nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity. Snider is also an award-winning writer whose works range from nonfiction to novels and plays.

After studying history and biology at Yale, Snider earned her PhD in the history of science and medicine at the University of Chicago. As the author of numerous popular health and medical books and former associate editor at The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), she’s covered an extensive range of health and medical issues in publications like The New York Times, CNN, Consumer Reports, and Businessweek.

Over the past several years, though, Snider has dedicated her writing and advocacy to sleep-friendly school hours.

“It’s a complicated public policy problem, but the science is really quite clear.”

—Terra Ziporyn Snider told American Heart Association News

Due to shifts in the sleep-wake cycle at puberty, most adolescents get their best sleep between 11 pm and 8 am. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Medical Association all recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 to allow for enough sleep at  the healthiest times—but the average U.S. high school start time is 8:00 am, with 10% starting before 7:30.

Curtailing sleep leads to sleep deprivation, which hampers adolescents’ preparedness to learn, negatively impacts physical and mental health, and impairs driving safety. Meanwhile, evidence shows that later start times positively impact student achievement, health, and safety.

With Start School Later’s leadership, alongside State Senator Anthony J. Portantino and others, in late 2019 California became the first state to pass sleep-friendly school hours legislation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Snider’s message has new context. Getting adequate sleep bolsters immune systems, and remote and hybrid learning has allowed many students to sleep an extra hour or more.

“Even in typical years, common excuses for not starting class when teens are awake and ready to learn are almost always resolvable. But now these excuses—which include school buses and after-school activities—are gone.”

An opportunity to let teens sleep according to their unique circadian rhythms offers families and schools a glimpse of how later schedules affect students’ performances. Once unimaginable changes are suddenly seeming possible.

“We keep hearing about districts that are moving to schedules that give students a shot at healthy sleep, both during the pandemic and beyond.”

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