How to get your teens to sleep now that they are back in school

(CNN)School may look a bit different these days, but there's one constant parents will remember from pre-Covid days: the struggle to get your teen to sleep.

In fact, staying up late to see or talk with friends may be an even bigger problem now, as teens catch up on socializing. Then there are the typical distractions: Television, social media, video games and more. What's a parent to do?
Rest easy, experts say. There are tried and true techniques that can put your child back on a regular sleep schedule, which will help improve their academic performance and mood.

    'Social jet lag'

      Is your teen suffering from social jet lag? That wouldn't mean they are behind on making friends or going to parties -- in the sleep world, it's a term for the disparity between the number of hours you sleep during the week compared to the weekend.
      "Social jetlag occurs when people sleep later on the weekend than during the work or school week, and this leads to a delay in circadian timing," said sleep specialist Kenneth Wright, a professor of integrative psychology at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
      "Come Monday morning, their clock is several time zones later, leading to a type of 'jet lag,'" Wright said.
        Teens are especially prone to staying up much later on weekends and sleeping in. But their natural sleep rhythm often keeps them up later on weekdays, too.
        Despite the overuse of screens and social media, it's not entirely their fault. When children hit puberty, they are biologically programmed to stay up later, experts say. There could be an "evolutionary benefit" for this change to promote independence, one study said, "allowing young animals to occupy a distinct temporal niche from that of older, dominant individuals."

        What happens in the body

        As a child nears puberty, levels of melatonin -- the sleep hormone -- begin to be secreted later in the day, moving his or her body clock from more of a "day lark" or morning type toward a "night owl" or evening type, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
        The pressure to fall asleep "accumulates more slowly" in the brain, which "consequently results in difficulty falling asleep at an earlier bedtime," the AAP noted, resulting in as much as a two-hour shift in sleep/wake cycles in middle childhood.
        "On a practical level, this research indicates that the average teenager in today's society has difficulty falling asleep before 11:00 p.m. and is best suited to wake at 8:00 a.m. or later," the AAP concluded.

        The impact on health and safety

        Teens ages 13 to 18 years old require between eight and 10 hours of sleep a day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to allow their bodies to repair, consolidate memories and stay healthy. Pre-teens need between nine and 12 hours a night, the CDC says.
        Yet a 2015 CDC study found about 6 out of 10 middle school students (grades six through eight) did not get enough sleep on school nights, while about 7 out of 10 high school students (grades nine through 12) were sleep deprived.
        Depriving teens of a full nine to 10 hours of sleep for just one night significantly slowed reaction and cognitive processing speed, while also reducing the teen's ability to stay attentive, according to a 2014 study.
        Other studies have shown a link between a decrease in sleep duration and lower academic achievement at the middle school, high school and college levels, as well as higher rates of absenteeism, tardiness and a decreased readiness to learn.
        "Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the United States is chronically sleep deprived and pathologically sleepy (i.e., regularly experiencing levels of sleepiness commensurate with those of patients with sleep disorders such as narcolepsy)," the AAP stated.
        A constant diet of insufficient sleep increases the dangers of social jet lag, which include insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, constipation or diarrhea, and an overall feeling of not being well, the AAP said.