May 18, 2021

What are nocturnal seizures?

About Epilepsy

Nocturnal seizures are very common among people with epilepsy. Learn about signs of seizures during sleep and different ways to manage them.

Have you ever woken up with a headache, bruises or your sheets thrown on the floor? You might have had a nocturnal seizure. Nocturnal seizures are common among people with epilepsy - according to one study by the Journal of Neurology, up to 45% of people with epilepsy have most of their seizures while sleeping.

Seizures during sleep can be very hard to diagnose. If it is you who is having the nocturnal seizures you will not have any memory of the seizure happening. In the same way, if it is your child who is having seizures, you may not see them, so cannot know for sure.

Diagnosing and controlling seizures while sleeping is very important because nocturnal seizures can be risky. They could make you fall out of bed and hurt yourself and they can also make you feel very tired the next day. Doctors also believe that there is a higher risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) from nocturnal seizures.

Here is everything you need to know about seizures while sleeping.

Woman with nocturnal seizures

Signs you had a seizure in your sleep

It can be very hard to tell if someone has had seizures during sleep. That said, there are certain typical seizures while sleeping symptoms:

  • Falling out of bed
  • Waking up with bruises that were not there before
  • Feeling confused or having a headache the next morning
  • Wetting the bed
  • Bed sheets tangled or thrown on the floor
  • Other things in the bedroom knocked over

The problem with identifying signs you had a seizure in your sleep is that some of these signs could easily be confused with something else - such as sleepwalking or sleep apnea.

How are nocturnal seizures diagnosed?

If you think that you or your child may be having nocturnal seizures, it is useful to speak to your epileptologist or a neurologist. They might use different methods to learn more about what is going on:

  • Getting someone who has witnessed your nocturnal seizures to describe them
  • Writing down when unusual things seem to happen at night, such as unexplained bruises, headaches or things thrown around. You can record this information in Epsy
  • Night time EEG - sometimes your epilepsy specialist may choose to use a night time EEG where they monitor brain activity while you sleep
  • MRI machine which can identify possible causes of seizure activity
  • Medical and family history

Treatments for seizures during sleep

Nocturnal seizures may be treated in different ways:

  • No treatment: For some kinds of epilepsy (such as benign Rolandic epilepsy), doctors often choose not to treat nocturnal seizures at all if they believe there is low risk.
  • Anti epilepsy drugs: For many kinds of nocturnal seizures, the first treatment will be anti-epilepsy drugs
  • Surgery: Other times it is possible to control seizures using surgery, so your doctor may choose to go down this route

Living with seizures while sleeping

If you have nocturnal seizures there are things that you can do stay safe:

  • Consider using an epilepsy or baby monitor which allows people in other rooms or locations to tell if you are having a seizure
  • Choose a low bed frame so that you will not hurt yourself if you fall out of bed
  • Avoid using a bedside table or keep it further away from your bed
  • Try using wall-mounted lights instead of free standing bedside lamps
  • Keep the space around your bed free of sharp or hard objects

If you believe that you are having nocturnal seizures it is very important to speak with your epilepsy treatment team about what is happening. They can then work with you to develop a plan that helps you to sleep better without worrying that you might hurt yourself during the night.