Seizures During Sleep

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There is a definite relationship between sleep and epilepsy.

Sometimes sleep activates the electrical activity in the brain that can cause seizures and for many, seizures happen at specific times during the sleep-wake cycle.

Then there are some types of epilepsy where seizures occur only during sleep.

When seizures happen during sleep, they cause awakenings that are sometimes confused with various sleep disorders. People with epilepsy are not often aware of seizures that happen during sleep and may suffer for years from daytime sleepiness and concentration problems without knowing exactly why.

The problem with sleep

For people with epilepsy, sleep problems are a double-edged sword;

  • Seizures can disrupt sleep patterns causing sleep deprivation which is a trigger for seizures
  • A seizure during sleep affects sleep patterns for the rest of the night. Sleep becomes lighter with more frequent awakenings
  • The biggest effects are on REM sleep (dreaming sleep). It is reduced and sometimes stops completely by even a brief seizure early in the night. REM sleep is an important part of the complete sleep cycle
  • Daytime seizures can also lessen REM sleep the following night, but the effect is weaker.

So if someone has regular seizures, particularly during sleep, this will greatly affect their daytime functioning.

On the other hand:

  • Not enough sleep or disrupted sleep can increase the risk of seizures happening.
  • Lack of sleep is often caused by other factors such as alcohol, stress or illness which can all increase the risk of seizures.

This is why it is so important to have a good night’s sleep on a regular basis if you have epilepsy. This means the same bedtime and rising time.

How much sleep should someone with epilepsy get?

  • Most adults need approximately 7-8 hours
  • Healthy teenagers should have at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, most have about 9-11 hours sleep.

But a simple definition of a good night’s sleep is one that leaves you feeling refreshed the next day.

It is not only the quantity, but the quality, of sleep that matters.

Anyone who has problems with daytime drowsiness or difficulties with memory and concentration, even when they seem to be spending enough hours sleeping, may need a change of medication or a sleep assessment.

What about epilepsy medications? Do they affect sleep?

Medications used to treat epilepsy may also affect sleep. It really depends on the medication, as they all act differently.

  • Some medications may cause daytime tiredness, memory problems or difficulty concentrating.
  • Occasionally they may cause difficulty falling asleep (insomnia).

If you feel that your anti-seizure medication is affecting your sleep, then it is important to get it reviewed by the neurologist and see if any changes are able to be made.

Importantly, enough sleep is good for our health, so try to do as much as you can to get good sleep quality and time.

Here are some sleep tips:

  • Don’t overheat. Keep your quilt or blankets light as you sleep better when cool.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry. Have a light snack before bedtime if you are hungry. Don’t eat too much as it can interfere with sleep.
  • Avoid energy drinks, colas, chocolate and coffee in the evening. They all contain caffeine or caffeine like stimulants!
  • As hard as it may be, turn off your screens! Message alerts and bright light will either keep you awake or disturb your sleep.
  • Avoid smoking at least 1-2 hours before you go to bed as nicotine is a stimulant.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol may help you get to sleep but will change sleep patterns and you will not necessarily stay asleep.
  • Most importantly, maintain your biological clock. Have a regular wake up time and try to have a regular time you go to bed.

Click on the play button to hear Ashia’s take on sleep.

“I need rest… Not ‘would like’, I NEED it.”
Other links

Good Sleep Habits

EAA Smartclip Dr. Dan MacLaughlin Sleep and Epilepsy

Epilepsy 360 magazine – while you were sleeping

Sleep Health