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You Asked It: Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat

I’m 12 years old and can’t fall sleep before 3 am, which means my food schedule is weird. I’m not hungry at lunch so I end up eating for the first time around 3-4 pm. What can I do?

Great question! As you’ve already figured out, sleep has a major impact on your eating schedule. If you’re up late, you’re more likely to eat a late night snack or two and sleep late the next day (if you can), which means that you may not be hungry for lunch, let alone breakfast. But eating regularly is important to staying healthy and feeling your best. It’s great that you’re thinking about how to change your habits so you can be your healthiest self!

The good news is that you can encourage your body to get hungry when you want it to. By eating at around the same time every day, your body will expect to eat then, and get hungry in anticipation. Start eating meals at around the same time every day. If you’re not hungry, at least eat a snack. Think of some foods that you like, so you’ll be more motivated to eat. If you have trouble remembering, try setting an alarm on your phone. After a while, your body will probably begin to get hungry on its own.

It sounds like eating is only one part of the problem, though. Not being able to fall asleep until 3 am can’t be fun. You may have noticed that not getting enough sleep makes you feel foggy or “out of it,” and easily irritated or on edge. You might also have a hard time doing well at school.

It’s unclear from your question whether you stay up until 3 am only during the summer, or year round.

We know it’s not uncommon to go to bed and wake up later when school’s out. But if you’re not going to bed until 3 am and then waking up at 7 am, you’re only getting around 4 hours of sleep. This means that you’re chronically fatigued, which can take a major toll on your physical, emotional and mental health. At your age, you should ideally be getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

Talk to your health care provider—sooner rather than later. Certain medical and mental health conditions, medications, stress, and other issues can make it hard to sleep at night. A health care provider can help you figure out what’s going on and come up with strategies to help you eat and sleep better.

If your 3 am bedtime is only for when you can sleep until 11 am, creating a sleep routine that works for you may be enough for you to get on a healthy sleep schedule.

Is there something specific that’s keeping you up? Think about what you’re doing and feeling when you can’t fall asleep. Write it down. What are some ways to deal with these obstacles? Maybe you can set a hard deadline to stop playing video games or scrolling through social media, or switch from soda to decaffeinated tea or water in the afternoon. Many people have a hard time falling asleep because their head feels full of thoughts or worries. If that sounds like you, write your feelings down. That way, you don’t have to be the keeper of those thoughts.

If you’re lying in bed for 20 minutes or more but still can’t fall asleep, get up. Do something calming, like reading or doing a relaxation exercise. Get back into bed when you feel sleepy again.

We have a lot more tips getting your best sleep here and here. Check them out and see what works for you. Remember that changing habits can be hard! Forgive yourself if you slip up sometimes. To help, you can talk to your parents, a friend, a coach, or someone else you trust about your goals. They may be able to support you and help you stay motivated.

If you’re 10-22 years old and live near NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment for medical care and/or counseling at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. No judgment, no charge.

ABOUT YOU ASKED IT

You’ve got questions.  We’ve got answers. At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we answer a lot of questions. Topics range from nutrition to pregnancy prevention, and everything in between. Now, we’re bringing these questions back to you with our weekly advice column, You Asked It. Got a question? Holler at us in the comments, send us a message on FacebookTwitter or Instagram, or email us at teenhealthcareorg@gmail.com.

This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

Missed a “You Asked It” post? Click on “You Asked it” under Topics.

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