Seattle Public Schools recently adopted new school start times that take into account the different circadian rhythms of teens.
This was prompted by years of pressure from parents, and jump started in the fall of 2014 when the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a study that showed that “chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today."
So, what happens to teenagers when they don't sleep enough?
Dr. Maida Chen is the director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington. She is both a researcher and a practitioner, and she treats a variety of conditions resulting in sleep depravation in teenagers.
“We know that their ability to learn is likely compromised when they don’t get enough sleep," she said.
She said children who don't get enough sleep struggle with the very basic problem of not getting to school on time. After a sleep deprived student makes it to school, they'll have problems focusing, listening and being attentive. They also believe it has a role in long-term learning and memory.
While many parents would like to blame their teenager's phone, Dr. Chen said it is really a two prong problem.
"Clearly, texting, staying on screens and social media are not helping the situation, but a lot of it is a very fundamental understanding that teenagers are not sleepy at a time that we really want them to fall asleep in order to get their requisite nine hours of sleep prior to starting school at the current start times," she said.
She said teens really aren't sleepy until around 11 p.m. and really aren't biologically awake and ready to learn until around 8 or 9 a.m.
She also said that the binge sleeping that happens on the weekend hurts efforts to get on a normal schedule during the week.
Dr. Maida Chen, director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington