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Catching Zzz’s: Teens, Sleep and School

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Parents know what a challenge it can be to wake their teenager up for high school. Trying to get them to bed at a decent hour can be just as difficult, if not more so. Unfortunately, parents and teens are working against Mother Nature on this matter. The circadian rhythm is a biological process which regulates a person’s natural sleep and wake cycle. It helps our bodies coordinate when to sleep according to daylight hours. However, shortly after puberty, a teenager’s circadian rhythm will begin to switch, turning them into night owls. “In teenagers, the circadian rhythm starts drifting later. Bedtime will start drifting later and they will want to sleep in later.” says Andrew Hong, MD, sleep medicine physician at Vancouver Clinic. This often presents a challenge to teens who are trying to focus during their first period classes.

Kim Hallenbeck, a P.E. teacher at Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies, sees this challenge every day. Fort Vancouver has the most bus routes of any high school in Vancouver School District. As a result, some students must be at the bus stop more than a full hour before the first bell at 7:25 a.m. If they miss the bus, it can mean a student may not make it to school for the day at all. Attendance is low during first period, which means that most of the failing grades and incompletes Hallenbeck gives out are in her first period. “I can’t give them a grade in physical education if they are not performing the task in person that is set by the standard we are trying to achieve in class.”

Evergreen School District is just one district of many in the United States that are adapting their schedules as a result of recent dramatic research on teenagers’ need for sleep.

To read more, pick up a copy of the July 2019 issue at any of these locations, or view the digital archive copy here.

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About Author

Sarah Mortensen recently completed her degree in marriage and family studies and works for Vancouver Public Schools as a paraeducator. When Sarah is not reading to her kids or students, she is probably in her backyard taking care of her garden. She also enjoys hiking, hot chocolate, and dressing up for Halloween. She lives in Vancouver with her husband, son and daughter.

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