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Therapy Helps Teen ‘Wake Up’ From Sleep Disorder

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ROBBINSDALE, Minn. (WCCO) – If you think your teenager’s tired all the time, it might be tough to believe Matt Borchers story. Matt has a medical sleep disorder called hypersomnolence and he is known to sleep 13 hours a night.

“I’m so tired it even affects my mood some time. I feel like I’m really down,” Matt said.

The 15-year-old missed or was late to class 66 times last school year at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope, because he just couldn’t wake up.

“I’d usually get into class, try to sit down. I’d listen to the teacher, but it was hard to stay awake and stuff,” he said.

His mother recalled his lack of enthusiasm to swim after school, something that he had done for a couple years.

“The coach told me last year that he wasn’t the same kid he had been the two years before,” said Betsy Borchers.

Matt continually feels drowsy and rundown, even after a full night’s sleep. He was sleeping well beyond the typical eight or nine hours that teens normally need each night. Yet he was still exhausted.

“Getting up in the morning was the worst. I just couldn’t wake up some time. I was tardy to class a lot cause of that,” he said.

When Matt finally got to class, he’d actually fall asleep again. He even struggled to do homework. Matt and his mom realized something wasn’t right.

“This is not normal. No. That is not typical,” said Dr. Laurel Wills, who specializes in Pediatric and Adolescence Sleep at Gillette Children’s Hospital.

Wills asked Matt to fall asleep for her again, this time in a controlled environment at Gillette Children’s Hospital, participating in a sleep study.

“I had to sleep with all these cords on my head, a breathing tube up my nose. That was the most uncomfortable part,” he said. “I moved a lot apparently, because I had all these cords around me when I woke up. They actually had to wake me up, because I was still sleeping.”

Sleep requirements vary from child to child. The average teen needs 9.5 hours a night, but doctors say most only get seven or eight hours, considering the challenges of balancing school, a social life and other life demands.

Doctors also say it’s best if teens don’t sleep in very late on a Sunday. Sleeping in until 9 a.m. is best, so that they can fall asleep at night and not be so tired in school on Monday morning.

With Matt’s case, Wills concluded that his condition was severe. He has a medical sleep disorder, something only 1 percent of teens and young adults have.

Even after waking, his brain waves were still in “sleep mode.”

“The fancy medical name for that is hypersomnolence. Somnolence means sleepy; hyper meaning a lot,” said Wills.

Doctors don’t know the cause, but they do know how to treat it.

Matt wears sunglasses every morning for 15 minutes, even before the sun comes up.

“It’s like a miracle machine. That’s what I call it,” said Matt. “It’s just blue flashing!”

The lights, coupled with music, help him wake up.

“Yea, makes me feel better. Especially when I actually take them off and step up, it feels just great. It feels amazing. It’s an amazing transformation,” he said.

Matt also takes medication. The results, together, have been dramatic.

After being late to class, or being absent from class 66 days last year, Matt has not missed a single class this year. In fact, he’s not falling asleep in class either.

He’s more focused on everything he does. He’s got renewed enthusiasm heading down the horse track while horseback riding and fighting for first in the swim lane. Now that his sleep has improved, Matt’s concentrating on improving his swim stroke.

Happier and healthier, he’s going for a new goal this season: to be the best young swimmer he can be.

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