printer-friendly version   Printer-Friendly Version  

Removing Tonsils Can Reduce Hyperactivity in Children

Tonsillectomy for ADHD sounds like a bit of a stretch, but once you understand how sleep problems contribute to hyperactivity in children, it makes sense to eliminate the root cause of the condition.  Individuals with ADHD often have difficulty sleeping, and the lack of adequate rest has a negative impact on behavior and cognitive function of a child.  Studies show that tonsils contribute to sleep disturbances by causing sleep apnea or snoring.  In fact, 50% of tonsillectomies done on children are recommended because enlarged tonsils interfere with breathing. 

Although studies on the effect of tonsillectomies on ADHD children are still few, a groundbreaking new study is paving the way for further research.  A sleep disorder specialist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Ronald Chervin, examined 78 who had their tonsils removed and compared their behavior to 27 other children who still have their tonsils and who went through different kinds of surgery.  His research team discovered that those who have had tonsillectomies are more likely to have had sleep problems and behavioral disorders before the surgery than kids from the other group. In fact, 22 children from the tonsillectomy group were diagnosed with ADHD before the operation.  A year after the surgery, half of these children no longer fit the diagnostic criteria of the disorder.

These findings make sense when you consider the fact that children who suffer from sleep apnea do not sleep soundly at night. Aside from the disturbances caused by the snoring itself, sleep apnea also deprives the brain of oxygen at night, thus affecting its function the following morning.  Symptoms of sleep apnea include poor academic performance, difficulty sustaining attention, and restless behavior. 

Admittedly, it is difficult to determine if sleep problems is the cause of ADHD, especially since not all kids with sleep apnea snore.  The good news is that even if your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, addressing the sleep issues he or she faces can improve your child's behavior and school performance.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? Generally, preschoolers and toddlers should get 12 hours of sleep a day, including an afternoon nap.  Elementary schoolchildren need approximately 10 hours a day, whereas adolescents and teens need 8 or 9 hours.  However, these are just averages – some kids need more sleep than this.  To determine if your child is sleeping well, observe his or her behavior. Is your child sleepy or irritable during the day? Does your child have a hard time staying awake, especially when sitting still for long periods of time?

As an adult, you probably know what it's like to be grumpy and inattentive due to lack of sleep.  Ask your doctor what you can do to help your child's sleep problems, whether it's through a tonsillectomy or through creative solutions for good sleeping habits.