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How Many Surgeries Does it Take to Sleep Through the Night?

Complications after a g-tube removal. Apollo got a surgical infection after his g-tube removal.
Apollo playing with LEGO gumball machine in background

Well, my friends, I think it is about time I update you on Apollo’s latest surgery (surgery #8 if anyone is keeping count). Quick recap: Apollo has never slept through the night regularly. On a handful of occasions, he has “slept all night” but those were few and far between.

Apollo is eleven.

And a half.

Years. Not months.

We have tried everything to get him to sleep…

Newborn baby Apollo in tie-dye sleeping on bed.
Newborn Apollo…don’t let these photos fool you…he didn’t sleep then either.

Night lights, Twilight Turtle, valerian, melatonin, incentive charts…nothing, nothing, nothing has worked. In fact, he’s spent the last two years sleeping with me. I was finally so exhausted after a decade, I gave up even attempting to “put him to bed” and just went to bed with him, in my bed, to relieve some stress.

We Have Tried Everything to Get Him to Sleep

Ten-year-old boy ready for sleep study.

Apollo has been to see doctors, sleep doctors, a therapist, a child psychiatrist, his ENT, his pulmonologist, and had numerous sleep studies…There is nothing we haven’t tried.

Earlier this year, I noticed a marked decrease in his energy level and hit my breaking point (yeah, right, moms don’t get to break) with sleep. I took him to our family doctor with a half-baked plan to beg for sleep meds. Instead, he recommended a trip to his ENT.

The ENT, of course, recommended a sleep study. Having had a long history, with sleep studies, I hate them with a passion*…but it is often needed before doctors are willing to move on to more invasive procedures. Thankfully, this sleep study showed apnea and he was prescribed a CPAP and scheduled for his nose job.

[You can read about sleep studies in Apollo’s own five-year-old words here.]

I’ll be honest, the recovery was horrible, as I knew it would be. Surprisingly, the pain wasn’t his issue, but the fact he couldn’t breathe (from swelling and drainage) and the bloody nose was so hard on him. He spent the first three or four nights having to sleep upright in a recliner. No fun…

Three Weeks Post Septoplasty Surgery

Boy on gurney with IV recovering from surgery in hospital.

Within three weeks of the surgery, however, he started going to bed. In his bed. Alone (yes, his brothers are in the room he shares with them, but we have spent years lying down with him at bedtime). And then, he started sleeping all night. And then kept waking up later and later in the morning. Now, he reports he sleeps much better in his own bed (probably because my snoring, restlessness, and insomnia aren’t disturbing him). He even says he wakes up in the night and is able to just “roll over and go back to sleep”. Now here is my theory, as crazy as it may be…if you have a better one, feel free to share.

Can Sleep Anxiety Be Subconscious?

doctor listening to child's chest with stethoscope .

Anxiety around sleep has been a huge issue for Apollo. While he has never slept well, the actual anxiety began after his first heart surgery (double aortic arch division). From the time we brought him home from the hospital, he showed displayed a sudden fear of sleep. It was so bad Chuck and I have often wondered if there is any chance he woke up during the procedure or was somehow aware…

Getting blood pressure taken at Seattle Children's Hospital

It was after that surgery that we began our long, ten-year journey to get Apollo to sleep. The question in my mind as I have watched Apollo after this latest surgery, is where did the anxiety go?

And here is my theory…Somewhere, deep in Apollo’s brain, subconsciously, he learned to fear sleep. The deep, restful sleep we all need. I think his brain was aware that sleeping too deeply and for too long would compromise his breathing. This subconscious fear translated into felt anxiety. Apollo didn’t feel safe sleeping alone, even if he consciously didn’t’ know why. In the weeks and months after his latest surgery, as his brain has learned that he isn’t going to die if he sleeps, his conscious mind has been able to shed that sleep anxiety. I know it sounds a bit out there, but I can think of no other logical reason that ten years of sleep anxiety would disappear with no therapy, changes in routine, or incentives.

Wonder Crew Superhero Doll is great for encouraging imagination.
Sleep is Apollo’s Super Power!

All that to say, my friends, Apollo is now sleeping through the night most nights. At bedtime, he takes his melatonin (we’ve used a few different kinds over the years, but this is our current choice) and heads to his own bed for a night of rest. It isn’t perfect (hello, melatonin) and he stays up late (very sad for me…I am not a night owl) but it is more progress than he has ever made in his life.

And I’ll take it.

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1 Comment

  1. Liz

    Hallelujah! That’s fantastic!

    In case no one’s mentioned it – look into EMDR therapy for trauma. The book by Francine Shapiro is fascinating. You are likely right about the anxiety. EMDR might be able to help some too.

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