Sleep and seizures

We all need sleep. It is essential for normal functioning and life. It is said that sleep loss or deprivation is more potent than alcohol in causing sedation. Sleep deprivation has also been associated with altered learning and memory difficulties.
Does sleep deprivation also increase the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy?

Many people with epilepsy report stress, fatigue and sleep deprivation as common triggers for their seizures and often these factors co-exist. In many people sleep deprivation often occurs in association with physical or emotional stress, substance abuse, or a sleep disorder so because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to tease out the most relative contributing factor. Sometimes when people with epilepsy are monitored in an inpatient setting with relatively low stress, sleep deprivation does not seem to have an effect on seizure frequency. However, this does not mean that it is not a trigger for some people.

There is a close association between sleep and epilepsy. In some epilepsy syndromes, seizures occur predominantly, sometimes exclusively during sleep or on awakening. People with epilepsy often report daytime sleepiness and may be due not only to medication but also to nocturnal seizures or coexisting sleep disorders.
A few facts:

  • Many people with epilepsy report excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Seizures during the night, even early in the night can disrupt sleep architecture throughout the rest of the night and consequently cause the person to wake up unrefreshed.
  • Ongoing sleep deprivation may worsen seizures.
  • People with sleep disorders will have chronic sleep loss and higher risk of seizures. It has been shown that when people with epilepsy and obstructive sleep apnoea receive treatment for the sleep apnoea, seizure control improves.
  • Antiepileptic medication can have variable effects on sleep.
  • Epilepsy and antiepileptic medication can worsen sleep disorders.
  • Nocturnal seizures may be difficult to distinguish from sleep disorders, in particular night terrors, sleepwalking and confusional arousals.
  • Some seizure types or epilepsy syndromes may be more susceptible to sleep deprivation than others, especially if the seizures are associated with sleep in some way. An example of this is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy where seizures occur shortly after awakening.
  • Sleep deprivation is often associated with other factors like stress or alcohol.

If you feel your epilepsy or medication is having an impact on your sleep patterns, speak to your doctor. For changes, you can make to your lifestyle, see the below links for ways to help with your sleep patterns.
For more information:

EAA Videos – Dr Dan McLaughlin – Sleep

EAA Website – Nocturnal Seizures 

Good sleep habits 

Sleep Hygiene (how to improve your sleep)