Does a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy make a child sleep better?

Hello, fellow sleep-deprived parents who have found their way here via desperate Google searches. May I suggest turning away now if you are feeling like one more bit of bad news about sleep will send you into the corner to sob silently and/or run for the hills? 

One of the primary reasons my daughter had a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy surgery was because she suffered from sleep apnea. In the daytime, she was a mouth breather and her voice was a touch nasally, but it didn’t seem to bother her too much. At night, however…she would often stop breathing and her body would jerk itself awake to ‘remind’ her to breathe. When she was sleeping, she was often snoring. Not sawing logs like an overweight old man snores, but any snoring isn’t much good, particularly for a small child.

The primary reason I agreed to do the surgery for my daughter was because I was desperate to get her to sleep. Up until the surgery, she had slept through the night exactly twice in her life, and both of those took place when she was approximately 1 year old. She’s 4.5 now, so you can imagine the depths of my sleep deprivation. And I hope “imagining” is the only way you can relate – I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. The doctor assured me that removing her enlarged adenoids and tonsils would be a “life changer” for both of us. I believed him.

So, did the surgery help turn my poor sleeper into a good one? Short answer? No. Not really.

Long answer? She’s still not sleeping through the night, most nights. We’ve had a couple nights where she’s slept in her own bed through the night, crawling into mine around 5 am. Those nights feel like Christmas morning for a desperately tired mom like me, and they are a treasure to behold and memorialize on this blog. Because they are (very, very) rare.

Most nights, she’s still waking up at some point and coming into my bed. She’s still waking before the birds – 5 am most days, 4:30 some (always on a Sunday, of course). And 6 am on the days when I am thisclose to losing my  sanity, and I swear she knows and throws me a bone to keep me going. She goes to bed fairly early – by 7 or 7:30 most nights, but before you suggest I push back her bedtime, let me assure you that whether she’s in bed by 7:00 or 9:00, she’s still waking at a criminally early hour.

I’m not here looking for tips (believe me, I’m certain I’ve read the entire internet when it comes to baby/children’s sleep). I’m just here to vent and say that sadly, the surgery was not a cure for our sleep woes. I do often blame myself for Evelyn’s sleep health (or lack thereof). I never sleep trained her as an infant. Instead, I nursed her to sleep. I never put her in her own crib. Instead, I snuggled her in my bed. I felt like I was doing the right thing for my baby. But sometimes, a shadow of doubt sweeps over me. Did I do the right thing? Or did I set my child up for a lifetime of being a shitty sleeper because I didn’t “teach” her how to sleep as an infant? If that’s true, I think the heavy bags under my eyes show that I’ve paid the price. 

I should have known my poor sleeper wouldn’t magically turn into one after this surgery. I clung on to hope the way Jack clung on to that piece of wood in the Titanic movie.

I know that some day my child will sleep through the night consistently. I know that some day my child won’t wake up before the birds. I know that some day I will have to beg my child to get out of bed. Sure, that day may not come until she’s 16. And I may have no idea how to sleep through the night when we get to that point (my body has already forgotten), but some day it will happen and so unlike Jack, I’m still hanging on.


11 thoughts on “Does a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy make a child sleep better?

  1. I will reiterate that you did and still are doing the right thing for your child! You have not doomed her, just as me not starting solids at exactly 6 months per GI’s insistence didn’t doom Wallace to a life of liquid diet. Is she still having sleep apnea or is that getting better?

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    1. You’re absolutely right – I know that it isn’t really my “fault” but you know that cloud of doubt can come moving in! Thank you. 🙂 This reminds me I owe you an email!

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      1. The family I just started babysitting for, holds and rocks her almost 2yo and almost 6yo (has down syndrome) to sleep. It works for them just like your methods and styles work for you. There’s no fault to be had as there’s nothing wrong (except for her godforsaken early mornings!).

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  2. As someone married to a horrible snorer (is that a word?) I will do anything for my child to help them not snore like my husband does. He has actually been to doctors as an adult about the snoring and they have indicated he needed the surgery your daughter just had as a child. Now it’s too late. So, I guess what I’m saying is I suspect long term it’s a very good thing she had the surgery, not just for her health but also for her future life partner!!
    Also, I don’t for a second think your decision to not sleep train will haunt her for life!! Gosh, with the amount of decisions we as parents make that might haunt our children, I highly doubt loving them and comforting them is a decision that will cause problems. Your an amazing mommy!

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  3. Neither my brother nor I slept through the night until we were 4, my parents let us cry. I did not let Darwin cry, she wakes 1 to 5 times a night at nearly 3. Linnea has slept through the night more times than her sister, we let her cry with me in the room. This is all to say, kids are unique and will respond differently to things like sleep training. I’ve had the same thoughts (‘did I run my kid’s sleep?!’) But no. Some kids just struggle.

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    1. Your comment actually makes me feel better. It’s nice to know that even children in the same family with the same parents & similar routines sleep differently. I’ll keep waiting (and waiting) for the day/night Evelyn sleeps better!

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  4. Love you! All my sympathies! I never recovered from the sleep disruption, 13 years gone by. I started giving him melatonin and…I stole some of the gummies to try myself. We don’t do anything “wrong” or “right”, we just follow our gut instinct and intuition and…that particular child does what it does. Blessing is, they grow up.

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    1. I’ve got the melatonin trick in my pocket now too! Ours are chocolate flavored – she LOVES them, of course. I find they’re great at getting her to sleep but not so much at getting her to STAY asleep. #insomniacsforlife – at least I’m in good company w/ you.

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  5. Obviously I’m late to this party, but I just want to say that you are a great mom and the sleep thing is so not your fault. I tried sleep training. I followed the book. I waited it out. It didn’t solve the problem. I don’t know what happened that made Charlotte start sleeping through the night a few months ago. It certainly wasn’t my effort to make it happen, because I gave up. I was prepared to rock her back to sleep until college. I still wouldn’t say she’s a fantastic sleeper because most nights it takes her at least an hour to fall asleep. I blame genetics. I am not a good sleeper and I am not surprised that my kid isn’t either. Someday, she will learn to quiet her brain without needing to bother you. Until then, I salute you with my coffee mug and hope someday comes soon.

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    1. I have to admit that the green eyed monster came out when I learned that your toddler is now sleeping through the night and my preschooler isn’t! I mean I am VERY (and genuinely) happy for you but I can’t help but wonder if/when Evelyn will ever sleep through the night. At this point I just think maybe she never will, and as she grows it will matter less to me b/c she’ll be independent and can lay in her own bed and put herself back to sleep when she wakes or if she wakes up at 5 for the day or whatever. I am going to go ahead and blame genetics too, but Evelyn’s donor-dad gets the blame for this one!

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