'Back to school' teenage sleep problems and what can be done to help

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Social jet lag -- the disparity between the number of hours a teen sleeps during the week compared to the weekend -- is an increasing problem affecting adolescent sleep as they head back to school. Here's what can be done to help.
(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,…
Sandee LaMotte, CNN
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