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 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 poor sleep quality often happens in association with physical or emotional stress, substance abuse, or a sleep disorder and because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to tease out the most likely contributing factor to increased risk of seizures.

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 this 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 patterns 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.
  • People with epilepsy are at higher risk of obstructive sleep apnoea.
  • 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 can also be 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

E360 Article – While you were sleeping

EAA Website – Nocturnal Seizures 

Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep Health