How Sleep Impacts Epilepsy

January 26, 2024
January 26, 2024
How Sleep Impacts Epilepsy

Sleep disorders and a lack of sleep not only result in a lower quality of life, but can also trigger seizures for those at risk. In general, the most common complaints people report with sleep deprivation is daytime fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and poor concentration. In addition, lack of sleep has been linked to some chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity and kidney disease to name a few.

Epilepsy is also one medical condition that can be very sensitive to sleep patterns. Inadequate sleep can provoke seizures, and uncontrolled seizures can lead to inadequate sleep, leading to recurrent seizures. This bi-directional relationship will continue to disturb sleep patterns unless stopped through medical intervention. 

The most common sleep disorders are seen two to three times as often in people with epilepsy than in the general population. 

Let’s review the most common sleep disorders: 


People with epilepsy tend to report being poor sleepers and commonly report moderate or severe insomnia. Causes of insomnia include: poor sleep hygiene, effects of seizure medications, nighttime seizures, anxiety or depression, alcohol consumption, or presence of other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. 

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) 

People with epilepsy may tend to have daytime sleepiness or fatigue. Causes of EDS include: Fragmented sleep, poorly controlled seizures, seizures occurring only at night, sedative effects of medications, poor sleep hygiene or the presence of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) 

OSA can cause interrupted sleep, insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. OSA is caused by airway blockage during sleep and can be exacerbated by loss of muscle tone that occurs during REM sleep. Risk factors for OSA include being male, overweight, large neck size, alcohol or tobacco use. Untreated OSA results in sleep deprivation, intermittent loss of oxygen to the brain and decreased blood flow to the brain which can provoke seizures.

OSA is treated with a device that utilizes positive airway pressure which can decrease the number of times you stop breathing as you sleep. Epilepsy patients with OSA that are properly treated often see significant improvement in seizure control. 

Sleep disorders, including insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness can be improved with healthy sleep habits. Below are a few tips for better sleep:

- Build your perfect sleeping environment. 

- Only use the bed for sleep. 

- Do not drink caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon or evening.

- Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. 

- Limit use of screen time at least one hour before sleep.

- Get regular exercise (but not right before bed). 

If you are affected by insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness, talk to your current doctor or book an appointment with a Neura Health sleep specialist. If you are experiencing recurrent seizures, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness and/or if you snore, a referral to a sleep specialist may be warranted and could help improve not only your sleep but seizure control as well.

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Diana Bannister, NP
Diana Bannister is a board certified nurse practitioner with expertise in the evaluation and treatment of people with epilepsy.
About the Author
Diana Bannister is a bi-lingual Acute Care Nurse Practitioner specializing in epilepsy disorders. She previously worked at Texas Neurology in Dallas where she practiced general neurology, and focused on epilepsy, women with epilepsy and epilepsy surgical candidates. She has worked with patients with RNS and VNS implants. Her career began in 2000 in the Intensive Care Units at Baylor University Medical Center until she began working as an ACNP In 2011. She graduated from University of Texas at Arlington with her Master of Science in Nursing, where she received the designation of Acute Care Nurse Practitioner She is board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and licensed by the State of Texas to provide patient-centered care to patients spanning adolescence to geriatric populations.

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