Teen sleep is constantly an issue for us and our friends. In fact… how are you feeling today? A little tired? Maybe you stayed up late studying, or catching up with friends on Facebook, or playing some games on Study Break? ? Although Anita is only a teen herself, she’d like to help you by changing the way parents, educators, and doctors think about teen sleep, and shed light on how lack of sleep affects teen health. ? In fact, she’d love to make some changes to the school system — check out the interview below and we think you’ll like what she suggests! Although teen sleep is just one of the areas Anita is interested in (she’s a runner, dancer, and scientist too) she is so humble that it just adds to her charm and brilliance, and we are excited to see what she continues to achieve. Each of you will be able to relate to her ideas… because she is out to change the way the world views something every single one of us experiences: sleep. ? The fact that Anita’s success stems from a science project in 7th grade about teen sleep makes us think about all the opportunities that each of us can achieve when we go a step beyond what we might typically do, and we hope you are inspired by Anita’s story to keep exploring ideas and questions that challenge you.
Always has: a lot of fun
Proudest of: being selected to go to Pittsburgh, PA in May 2012 as a finalist for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Is thankful for: the best support system in the world, my family!
Wants to: explore other areas of the world
Is afraid of: large insects
Believes everyone should: get a good night’s sleep
Is embarrassed by: my yearbook pictures
My style is: Act locally, Think Globally
Pet peeve: my cell phone running out of charge
I am a typical teenager who likes to hang out with my friends, go shopping, and watch movies. I love math and science, and have participated in science fairs since I was in 7th grade. This year my Math Project “Lorenz and Modular Flows are Knot Similar” got 1st place at the Exxon Mobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair. I am physically active and love to run and bike. I have run 5 half-marathons (13.1 miles) and biked from Houston to Austin to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I have been learning a classical Indian dance form (Kuchipudi)? for almost ten years. I have been invited to perform all across the United States and represented Houston at the Dalian Youth Festival in China in September 2011.
Tell us about your 7th grade science fair project
What was the project: The project was called SIESTA: Sleepiness Indicators in Elementary Students and Teen Adolescents. The project targeted kids of ages 8-18, and asked them in survey format to record their daytime alertness in various hypothetical situations on a scale of 0-3, the number of techonological items in their bedroom, what kind of activities were conducted before going to sleep, and the sleep/wake times on weekends and weekdays.
What were the results: I found that with increase in age, especially when entering the high school years, there is a significant increase in the number of technological items available to students, there is a significant increase in the amount of stimulating activities performed before sleeping, and as a result the daytime alertess of children is considerably lower as age increases.
What inspired it: While watching a televised Frontline broadcast on PBS called “Inside the Teenage Brain” on PBS, featuring Dr. Mary Carskadon, a renowned researcher on adolescent sleep patterns at Brown University, it took me by surprise how lack of sleep can cause such poor performance in everyday activities. On the show, kids with varying amounts of sleep the previous night participated in reaction-time experiments, and the results of those experiments supported that sleep is necessary to function reasonably well.
Once most people complete a science project, they move on. What compelled you to stay involved: The results of my science fair were an eye-opener to me. They validated what was going on in my life and that of my friends, and yet I felt that most people, including many parents, teachers, and students were unaware of it. We started Project SIESTA (Students Involved in the Education about Sleep hygiene forTeen Adolescents) and started with our school PTA and our district school board. We were overwhelmed by the reception and interest we got.
What was your community service group in 8th grade: My community service project in 8th grade was called Project SIESTA, which stands for Students Involved in the Education about Sleep hygiene for Teen Adolescents. I started this organization along with 8 other students in Berry Miller Junior High, my school at the the time. Our goal was to educate the community about the importance of good quality and quantity sleep, especially in adolescents. We really stressed the message “Teens teaching Teens” because we wanted to approach public health education for adolescents with the idea that teenagers could better relate to us, since we were teenagers ourselves.
How many people became involved: Through the course of social media and networking, more people began to be involved. We spoke to PTAs, our school board, and on a larger scale, sleep professionals and physicians. We wanted to start a grass roots movement to get larger organizations involved with our project, and help us get the message of good quality sleep to people at the community level.
Is the organization still active: Yes, Project SIESTA is very much active, but has now evolved to ChOOSE HEALTH (Childhood Obesity Overcome by Sleep Education, Healthy Eating, and Aerobically Loving the Heart) with SIESTA, which targets practicing a healthy diet, exercising, AND good sleeping habits.
Are you still active with the organization: I am still active with the organization as well. At any given opportunity, I speak to any audience about my mission to improve the health of this generation. In fact, on April 28th weekend I will be going to the MD Anderson Family YMCA in Houston to set up a booth for Healthy Kids’ Day.
And in 9th grade, you joined Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Can you tell us about their mission: The mission of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, is to significantly reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity by the year 2015.
How does your work and their goal crossover?: Joining the Alliance was one of the best things that has ever happened to me, because what I want to do in my community ties in perfectly with the Alliance’s goal for the future of our generation. Before joining the Youth Advisory Board, I had started ChOOSE HEALTH with SIESTA which targeted adolescents, and was trying to educate them about the importance of 3 fundamental to compenents to one’s health: sleep, diet, and exercise. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation wants to educate kids and parents everywhere about these things as well to end childhood obesity. In this way, I was extremely lucky to find out about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation because they were able to help me greatly improve the work I was doing individually.
You were on their Youth Advisory Board… what is that: In working toward the goal of fighting childhood obesity, the Alliance recognized the need for a youth voice. The Youth Advisory Board is comprised of 20 kids of ages 8-18 across the U.S., who are all passionate about improving the health of this generation.
How did you become involved with the Youth Advisory Board: During Spring Break of 2010, I hosted a booth at the Houston Health Science Museum for the annual Health and Wellness Exposition. I contacted the Alliance to get educational materials and they suggested that I apply to join the Youth Advisory Board.
How can others become involved: The Alliance has a variety of educational materials that it will make available to anybody who has event planned. If possible, they will let YAB members like me join interested people to help tell the story.
You were accepted at TAMS, can you tell us about it: I have always been interested in Math and Science, and chose to take the most challenging (and fun!) courses I could handle. Luckily, the Director of Advanced Academics in our School District, Mrs. Margo Gigee, helped me double up on math and computer science courses at Glenda Dawson High School. It became pretty clear to me that I would run out of math classes by 11th grade. One of my good friend who is senior to me had applied to and joined Texas Academy of Math and Science in Denton. TAMS is a residential program for 11th and 12th graders on the campus of University of North Texas. Every year it admits about 175-200 kids who are willing to stay away from their families and live in a regulated dorm with a 10 pm curfew and strict rules against drug and alcohol use. It is in many ways just a regular high school but with kids who want to challenge themselves with college level courses and the opportunities to perform research.
Will you continue your work there: I definitely plan to continue my outreach at TAMS. Now my playing field has expanded because not only will I be reaching high schoolers but also college students.
If you were going to give someone advice on making a change, what would you suggest: My suggestion is to get started by taking small steps. Making drastic lifestyle changes is difficult to sustain, and you may give up too early.
What would be your suggestions for getting an ideal amount of rest and sleep to middle school and high school students: The recommended hours of sleep are 8-9 hours for the typical teen but all teenagers know that many days that is difficult, if not impossible.
What would you suggest to schools, if you were able to have them make changes for middle school and high school students: Change high school start times by starting them at least 1 to 2 hours later.
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, Anita!!