Teen Cant Wake Up in the Morning

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2013
Teen Cant Wake Up in the Morning
Wed, 07-24-2013 - 1:22pm

My 16 year old teenager has been fighting this problem for about 10 months.

It started when he could not sleep and could not do his homework. We could not wake him in the morning to go to school. We tried everything, even dragging him out of bed to the kitchen table. But it was like dragging a corpse. Sometimes he would collapse on the floor sobbing. He just never seemed happy.

He was treated for mild depression and add. This did not help much. He might go to school once or twice a week. Sometimes he would come home early complaining of not feeling well. He could not focus and keep up with the required work. When he did not get out of bed, he would sometimes sleep for 18 hours. His hygeine even began suffering. And his appetite dwindled.

We began seeing a psychologist and changed his medication. No real change occurred over the next few weeks. We then went to a psychiatrist who changed his medication again, with a treatment focusing on anxiety. Nothing. When he meets with friends on the weekend he seems ok, but doesn't get out much. He went on a 5 day retreat without us and only had 1 day where he was having anxiety issues.

He is now going to summer school to get caught up. But he only makes 1 class day out of 4 and most times comes home early feeling bad. 

We have an online school lined up for him in the fall, but he really wants to go to a regular school with his friends and says it will be different. But after a half day at school he is now sleeping and we cant wake him. We tried threats, discipline, taking things away, being overly supportive. We don't know what to do anymore. Before this began he was a straight "A" student who rarely missed school. No medications have helped and urging him to fight thru it is futile. He seems to be as frustrated with it as we are.

I hope this wasn't too long. It was even a bit condensed, but we are getting desperate. If someone can point us in a different direction we would be so thankful.

Avatar for suzyk2118
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-30-1997
Wed, 07-24-2013 - 4:17pm

What does the pediatrician say? 2nd opinion from a doctor?  I'm wondering if it's medical vs. psychological. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-08-2009
Wed, 07-24-2013 - 8:44pm

I have heard of things like this, but personally have less than SUBZERO knowledge on this subject. Therefore, anything I write is just guessing on my part.

Obviously, this does not sound like something to be left unattended to—especially since it has been going on for nearly a year. I would speak to your primary doctor who maybe the gatekeeper to specialists—medical doctors who may be qualified to determine if it is hormonal or maybe even a tumor of some type. This may require lots of testing, like even an MRI. Before you get too worried about what I say, please keep in mind that I’m just guessing and have NO qualifications on the subject.

One of our posters, SABRTOOTH, knows quite a bit about medical, psychological, emotional types of issues and may be able to supply some guidance about this subject. So do check back in for a few days.

When you do get an answer and a solution to the problem that works, please come back and share with us. This is how we all learn.

Avatar for sabrtooth
iVillage Member
Registered: 12-03-1999
Thu, 07-25-2013 - 12:02am

A psychoactive drug ALWAYS does SOMETHING.  It might not do what you want, or do enough, or do the right thing, but it's biology.  It always does SOMETHING.  If it doesn't do ANYTHING, it's because he's not taking them.   Which begs the question, "What happened?'  So either he doesn't want to address what happened, or get better. Or he's had a psychotic break, and he thinks nothing is wrong and you are all out to poison him or get him.

My money is on post traumatic stress disorder, and he's not telling ANYBODY what happened.  But to be perfectly safe, and cover all bases, he needs a COMPLETE medical and psychiatric workup.  There's always the possibility of a brain tumor, or narcolepsey, so don't leave any stone unturned.  MAKE SURE you sit in on the psychiatric sessions, so you know what they are talking about, and that your son is telling the Pdoc the truth about the symptoms, and make sure the Pdoc digs into EVERY corner of your son's psyche.

And when the Pdoc prescribes meds again, you must be the pill police and make sure he ACTUALLY SWALLOWS THEM.  And then be VERY vigilant, because sometimes, especially with teens, their crushing immobility lifts JUST ENOUGH, that they have the energy to harm themselves.

BTW, a "few weeks" is not enough time to effect ANY kind of change.  The mantra of meds is "Start Low, Go Slow".  The dr always begins LOW, and gradually increases the dosage till he is sure the LOWEST EFFECTIVE level has been achieved, so he minimizes the chance of bad side effects.  THAT is when the psychotherapy begins.  After the meds make psychotherapy CAPABLE of working.  This is NOT a "Take a pill and it's all better" kind of disorder.

Avatar for turtletime
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Thu, 07-25-2013 - 3:35am

We went through a difficult period with our eldest from 13.5 to close to 15. Like your son, straight A's dropped, hygene issues, crying, anxiety, ect. There were a lot of factors... puberty, new school with a very early start time (and us living 20 minutes away and so even earlier for her,) nice social fit but poor academic fit, and more. Getting her up in the morning was sooo hard. We were dragging her out of bed. The worst was that she seemed unable to really tell us what was happening. She was just a jumble of nerves.

She was depressed but we didn't seek outside help. We had a good idea what was going on (similar to what happened to her in kindergarten) and how to fix it. For us the answer was a new, more challenging school (though a later start, less class time and less assigned work.) She didn't want to move. She insisted she could do it but we gave the school 2 years and things were only getting worse. Once we put our foot down and told her she was not returning, things started to get better. She was more open about the things that were going badly. Her hormones started to stabilize. Total turn around. She thrived last year and is excited about this coming school year. She looks back on her first 2 years of high school and marvels at how little she could understand of what was wrong DURING that period.

Obviously, our solution was catered to what we knew was happening to our own child but I wanted to let you know you're not the only one whose experienced it. It's tough to may a teenager who doesn't want to move MOVE. My piece of advice based solely on our own experience is to not be afraid to pull your child out of a situation that they, themselves may not recognize as bad. There are lots of ways to engage with friends. A poor schooling environment can really alter a child mentally.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Thu, 07-25-2013 - 11:42am

My son also has a sleep disorder but it's different than you describe.  First we discovered he had a seizure disorder--he had a few seizures in his sleep but it wasn't until he had one at around midnight and actually fell out of bed which I heard and saw him seizing that the dr. figured out what was what.  Before that, a few times he would wake up, but not really be 'awake"--he would be walking around but almost like a sleepwaker.  I only saw this once, but it was just so odd--like he was almost semi-conscious.  I took him to the pediatrician that day but since by then he was fully awake, they didn't even do any tests and couldn't tell me what it was and just sent him home.  After the grand mal seizure when we went to the ER, they did a CT scan and then sent him for a sleep deprived EEG.  I say all of this because he should have a complete physical to rule out physical causes too.

OK, so the 2nd thing was that after he got on seizure meds, the seizures stopped, but since childhood he has been unable to fall alseep at night so we also had him evaluated by a dr who specializes in sleep disorders through Children's Hospital in Boston--luckily where we live there are the best hospitals around.  The dr. determined as he said to my son that instead of being on Boston time, his brain was on California time, so he explained how to re-set it so he could fall asleep--there are lists that I'm sure you could find on the internet, things like wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends (the sleeping late on weekends and having to get up at 6:00 am on week days just throws everything off), don't use the computer or watch TV late at night, definitely don't have your cell phone in the bedroom because the little "pings" wake you up, etc.--it did work for a few months, then I know he wasn't following the rules and started sleeping late again.  But the difference to me in your explanation is that even though sometimes I would have to wake him up a few times (at the worst) on school mornings, once he was awake, he was fine for the rest of the day.  The sleeping a long time, poor hygeine, crying, poor appetite--those are symptoms of depression.  I wonder is he also seeing a counselor as well as taking medication?  My exH suffered from depression and ALWAYS did both--he took meds and went to a counselor ALL THE TIME for years.  The medicatons take at least a month to start working so I do wonder if your son started taking the meds, didn't feel any different after a week and then figured "these aren't working" and stopped taking them as Sabrtooth said--and what my ex explained to me is that psych meds won't make you "happy"--you just feel more normal.  But if this is a sudden thing, I would want to explore if there was some kind of incident that occurred to bring on the depression and even if not, I would think that your son would need therapy to discuss his feelings, get coping strategies, etc.  When a person is depressed, urging them to "fight through it" does not work at all.  Threats and discipline would also not help if he actually has a mental illness.  I'm sure you are going out of your mind too with worry, so I hope you can find answers. 

I also want to mention one more thing, since I just thought of it.  My son came out to us as gay in his junior year of high school--then he started by telling a few friends and eventually he was out to everyone, joined the Gay-Straight alliance, etc.  He had always had a lot of anxiety and he told me that his stress level decreased so much after he came out--it must be stressful to be keeping a big secret.  Now this didn't help his sleep disorder at all.  I'm not saying that your son is gay, but since it seems like he's stressed by school and not on the weekends with his friends, I do wonder if there is something about school that he's not telling you about--bullying could be another thing that comes to mind or even being molested by a teacher--sorry to bring up horrible things, but just thinking of all possibilities.  You said he's smart so I wouldn't guess it's academic.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Fri, 07-26-2013 - 1:36pm

My first thought was that this is classic depression.  It could also be a sleep disorder, seizure disorder, or a brain tumor.  Or something else.

Here are the experiences my DH and my 13yo DS have had, by way of comparison.

When we were in our early 20s, DH was always sleeping whenever he could.  I never met anyone who could sleep so much.  He also was generally lethargic and unmotivated.  At the age of 21, out of nowhere he had a grand mal seizure.  Back then there were no MRIs, so he was hospitalized and had brain surgery.  There was a benign tumor pressing on the area of the brain responsible for motivation.  After he had the tumor removed, received radiation therapy, and started on antiseizure medication, he indeed became much more energetic and motivated.

Having said that, he still suffers on and off from depression.  He has as an adult learned how to deal with it when he feels it coming on, but in our 30s, when it was at its worst, he could spend all day sleeping and all night sleeping.  Sleeping is a classic avoidance mechanism for depressed people. 

My 13yo DS has had an awful time in middle school and in 7th grade was really suffering from depression.  He also seemed to have ADD.  After an extensive psychoeducational evaluation and language & speech evaluation, we eventually were able to trace his mood change and inability to pay attention back to him starting on a beta blocker for hemiplegic migraines toward the end of 5th grade.  He had had a rough adjustment to middle school in 6th grade, but when his beta blocker dosage increased in the middle of 7th grade, everything went downhill fast.  After we dialed back the medication, he started to come out of this fog he was in and displaying fewer depressed and ADD behaviors.  He also started on a major growth spurt that has probably also reduced the effect of the migraine medication. 

Bottom line, he no longer has any signs of depression.  He did benefit from his sessions with a psychologist (both the evaluation and subsequent therapy) and we learned that he truly was overwhelmed by his middle school of 1200 students and the chaotic environment was adversely affecting his learning.  We made the decision to send him this fall to a tiny private school where there will be only six students in each of his classes, and the environment is non-competitive, warm and nurturing, while also having high academic standards.

We were fortunate to have DS treated by both the top pediatric neurologist in our area as well as a top child psychologist.  They worked closely together.  Also, our son had previously had full CT, EEG, and MRI scans when he was 10 so we knew that as of the time he started having migraines, he didn't have a brain tumor. 

In your situation, I would ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric neurologist.  Start over again.  Be patient.  10 months of trying and failing can seem like forever, especially at this age, but there may be medical issues going on that the psychologist and psychiatrist haven't been able to find.  A neurologist might be able to help.  Ours has certainly helped our son.  And DH's depression and lethargy would never have been dealt with without the help of a brain surgeon.

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Fri, 07-26-2013 - 2:30pm

My DS24 started sleeping like that in 8th grade.  He had already been on Prozac since 5th grade and actually, some anti-depressants can have the side effect of drowsiness.  Can be a catch 22.  I got a letter from the school that I could potentially be in legal trouble for my DS missing so much school.  But it was mostly him missing the first period or two.  In general, he would eventually get up. 

As you probably already know, normal, healthy, teen age boys can sleep for hours on end, so that by itself is not so alarming.  I had also went to my doctor with concern.

I mean, this is tough.  My DS continued to struggle as he started high school and when he didn't make the freshman basketball team, (he always played baseball and basketball) he totally lost all interest in school. 

We have an alternate sort of hybrid option here of on-site doing on-line work.  But at this point, he was driving and I just couldn't make him go or make him do the work at home. He refused to take his meds any longer and he didn't even come close to graduating and just started working full-time at 17. 

For what it is worth, he has had the same job for about 5 years now, with benefits, etc. and doing well.  Even without a GED.  He has struggles just like any other young adult, but always gets through. 

I am curious if you are switching doctors AND medications, or is this the same doctor monitoring his progress and changing his meds? 

I originally popped over here regarding my DD13.  She started on 10 mg Prozac for a month, with a slight improvement.  NP changed her script to 20mg and we are starting to see improvement in her mood.  I know these things can take a few months to really know if they are helping.  She is a cutter and is obsessed with her weight.  She has been in counseling on and off since she was young. 

Enough babling out of me.  I don't know if anything in there was helpful, or not.  But wanted you to know you are not alone.  I also wonder if there isn't more to the physical aspect of your DS's issues.  If you have already tried the typical behavioral angle, then it seems it would be physical and/or mental. 

I am thinking more physical testing needs to be done to either rule out or confirm there isn't something odd going on that maybe is rare or not typical.  OR, I wonder if he doesn't need a full evaluation at your local mental hospital.  I know it sounds scary, but it may be worth it. 

Hugs, and hang in there. 


iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Mon, 07-29-2013 - 8:43pm

I've had a lot of experience with depression, both in myself and in my teens, but it sounds to me as if something else might be going on. If I were you, I'd find a neurologist quickly and try to get an appointment for a sleep study. If that turns up nothing, I'd find an infectious disease specialist to rule out tick- or mosquito-borne illnesses or parasites.

When a teen has trouble getting up, everyone assumes it's psychological or behavioral, but sometimes there really is an organic problem that needs to be treated.