Rethinking Seizure Care Blog

The Surprising Prevalence of Insomnia in Epilepsy

Posted by RSC Diagnostics on May 10, 2020

Tired woman suffering from insomnia and yawning - isolated

It’s long been understood that psychiatric disorders like depression and insomnia can be a big part of what triggers seizures; however, it was only recently that the medical community began looking into the prevalence of insomnia in epilepsy.

A recent study shows a high correlation between seizure triggers and insomnia. This information may be able to help physicians and patients formulate better treatment plans in the future.

Seizure Triggers and Insomnia: The Statistics

In a study performed at an epilepsy center, 66% of patients with epilepsy reported that they had some degree of insomnia and 25% of patients reported they experience moderate to severe insomnia. To put it in perspective, there are roughly three million people in the United States suffering from epilepsy. If these self-reported insomnia statistics are applied across the board, then there are nearly two million people with some form of insomnia related to seizure triggers and approximately 750,000 people are struggling from severe insomnia. 

Why Does Epilepsy Lead to Insomnia?

Epilepsy and other seizure disorders result in different types of seizures. Many of these seizures occur most frequently during the second stage of sleep, or during the time when the brain feels drowsy, but hasn’t reached REM sleep yet. After having a seizure, which often includes panic, loss of bladder control, hyperventilation, and other symptoms, it’s difficult for a person to get back to sleep. 

Additionally, it may be true in many cases that epilepsy doesn’t lead to insomnia. It’s common for epilepsy to exist along side other disorders, such as depression – and sleep disorders can be one of these. While seizure triggers at night can be a major part of insomnia, it can also be that a person has a sleep disorder that is aggravated by the epilepsy. Triggers that causes seizures can also result in sleep deprivation, so it’s often hard to diagnose this issue. Many people with epilepsy are not getting the treatment they need for a comorbid, but separate, sleeping disorder. 

Another problem is that the medications used for seizure management can disrupt sleep. Most medications are taken during the day, and may sedate patients when they take them. After being in a restful or napping state all day, sleeping at night can be difficult. Other medications have been known to cause nightmares, making it even harder to stay asleep if the insomniac does drift off.

Insomnia as a Seizure Trigger

While seizures can trigger insomnia, it can also work the other way. The lack of sleep can also be a seizure trigger itself. Seizures can often be influenced by sleeping patterns. If a person is having a hard time getting past stage two of sleep, and into REM sleep, they are spending more time in the space where the brain is most vulnerable to what triggers seizures.

Improve Your Sleep Naturally 

As the medical community learns more about the connection between epilepsy triggers and insomnia, and just how prevalent sleeping disorders are in patients with epilepsy, it should become clearer how to treat it. Taking natural steps to improve sleep can help in the meantime. Keeping regular sleeping schedules, avoiding caffeine entirely, and learning to relax without screens (TV, computer, e-readers, smart phones, video games, etc.) before bed can all help your brain get to REM sleep faster, and avoid seizure triggers in the night.



Topics: Seizure Management