Question of the Month

My 14-year-old daughter recently became a vegetarian after a visit to a farm with her school. Her classmates shared stories of how animals are killed, and she chose to stop eating meat for ethical reasons. She has also been sleeping more than usual during the summer holidays, waking up very late in the mornings. How can we help her eat healthy? Are the long sleep times and change in diet related?

K.F., Hastings on Hudson, NY, USA.

Adolescence is an important time when young people will start to make independent choices based on their personal values and ethics. Teens may become vegetarian for a variety of reasons. Some of them do so because of concerns about animal cruelty. Others because they want to have a healthier diet. Regardless, it is important that teens become smart vegetarians and ensure they are getting enough iron, vitamin B and protein when abstaining from red meat, fish, eggs or chicken in their diet. Good sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and eggs. vitamin B-12 rich foods include cheese, yogurt and milk. In my practice, when teens suddenly become vegans or vegetarians, I ask about body image and eating disorders. In some cases, young people choose vegetarianism as a means to restrict calories.

Teens tend to sleep later because of shifts in the sleep cycle during adolescence, In fact, the levels of melatonin, the hormone produced by the brain which makes us sleepy, typically increases later at night and decreases later in the morning among teens as compared to younger children or adults. Adults for example, get a surge of melatonin around 8:30pm , while for most teens it happens closer to 11 pm. As a result, waking up at 7:00 am for a teen may be like an adult getting up at 4:00 am. This may be why teens try to sleep in when they can (and occasionally struggle with waking up). Of course, late night use of computers, phones, video games and social media doesn’t help.

And yes, the long sleep times and the change in diet may well be related. Your teen may be at risk for iron deficiency anemia if she has been sleeping more than usual and not getting adequate iron as a vegetarian. As such, you may want to consider getting her haemoglobin level checked and have her take a multivitamin or iron supplement in addition to increasing iron in her diet. Hopefully, by making a few changes in her lifestyle, your daughter may be on her way to eating and sleeping better.


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