NORFOLK - Matilyn Stocks is 17. She is an honor's student who loves new clothes and old Hollywood. She loves to be in her girly-decorated room, but she hardly ever sleeps in there.
"If I lay down and an hour passes, I'm still not going to be able to be asleep even though I'm tired," she says.
It's no unusual for the teen to go 24 hours without sleep. Getting four hours is a good night.
Her parents had no idea that she had trouble sleeping because she would go to bed when told to do so but would never complain about not falling asleep.
When she hit puberty, Matilyn's mood swings were extremely drastic, even for a teenager. Her parents noticed the moods were worse if she had less sleep.
"It's two different people who come down that hallway. It affects her daily routine and interaction with other people because she's exhausted," said her dad, William Stocks.
The final straw was Matilyn's migraines recently became unbearable. Her parents found CHKD sleep neurologist Dr. Michael Strunc. He'll analyze Matilyn's chronic insomnia with a sleep test next month.
"She's wired for cruddy sleep," he said.
He says Matilyn has a pre-disposed insomniac brain. He's working to fix her circadian rhythm by turning off every light in the house at a set bedtime and not letting her nap at all.
"You can't rewire her brain but you can manipulate the hormones of the circadian rhythm," he added.
He calls what her parents are now doing "sleep training." Matilyn's mom says she was too scared to train her when she was baby since she was premature and dealt with sleep apnea.
We asked Dr. Strunc if Matilyn would be a good sleeper had her parents trained her when she was a baby or is insomnia different. "The answer is I don't know," he said. "Well, she would be a better sleeper because she has had a lot of signals that maybe weren't the properones to let her sleep."
For example, Matilyn's dad was always in and out of the house for work at all hours of night. Matilyn was aware of his comings and goings. Her mother also co-slept with her for years. She remembers Matilyn sleeping very well during those years. But they were fooled when they asked her to sleep in her big girl bed. She obediently did and never complained that she wasn't actually sleeping.
Dr. Strunc says if parents were to sleep train babies, it would be easier to know if sleep problems were physiological or psychological.
"In kids, often what you see is irritability, inattention, poor behavior and restlessness," he notes.
In another case, 10-year-old Saunte Jarret was always a good sleeper who never snored. That changed three months ago.
"Something don't seem right," said his mother Sherene.
Her maternal instinct was dead-on.
"A lot of people think 'Oh, my kid snores. Big deal. Now we know this causes severe, life-long consequences," Dr. Strunc says.
Saunte's sleep test revealed he stopped breathing 78 times in an hour. His brain at one point was only getting 35% oxygen. The team discovered he had enlarged tonsils that were blocking his breathing, so they took them out.
Recent studies have linked sleeping problems to Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficient and Hyper Activity Disorder. Pediatricians are now connecting the dots sooner.
"Sleep meds didn't exist until late 70s, 80s. Now we realize that sleep apnea in adults is connected to heart failure and other things," he said.
Matilyn will soon go in for her sleep test to find out if there is physical barrier in the way of her willpower to discipline her sleep.
For Saunte, learning that information has made a huge difference.