One of the major causes of sleep apnea in children is swollen tonsils and adenoids, which block the airways and restrict breathing. Past studies have shown a possible link between childhood sleep apnea and mental problems, including ADHD. A new study, led by Dr. Susan Redline, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, shows that removing the troublesome tonsils may improve the quality of sleep and the behavior of children with sleep apnea.

“There was a greater improvement in sleep with the surgery, and those improvements were likely responsible for the improvement in daytime functioning, energy levels and behavior,” said Redline.

The study included 464 children between the ages of five and seven. Half were randomly assigned to have their tonsils and adenoids removed, while the rest were assigned to “watchful waiting with supportive care.”

The children that had the surgery had significant improvements in behavior, sleepiness, executive functioning and quality of life according to surveys the parents and teachers completed post surgery. Testing was done to determine if the surgery impacted memory or learning, and no difference was found between the results of the children who had surgery and those that did not.

“Children who are having behavior problems, are feeling sleepy, are waking up un-refreshed in the morning and dragging during the day are much more likely to get a benefit from early surgery,” Redline concluded.

Ramie Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT