Epilepsy may be linked to sleep and stress – study

Published: October 19 2023
Last updated: October 19 2023

Grace Wood | The Birmingham University study suggests epileptiform discharges may be linked to sleep and stress

A study from the University of Birmingham has found that epileptiform discharges may be linked to sleep or stressA study from the University of Birmingham has found that epileptiform discharges may be linked to sleep cycles or the hormone cortisol, or both.

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a role in stress responses.

Epileptiform discharges (EDs) are wave forms seen in EEGs. They represent electrical activity in the brain. They are often observed in between seizures in people with epilepsy.

The researchers used a mathematical model to learn about the relationship between possible seizure triggers and epileptiform activity.

The study was led by Dr Isabella Marinelli, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham.

It analysed distributions of EDs from 24-hour EEG recordings of 107 people with idiopathic generalised epilepsy. It also used EEG data from 77 healthy participants and simulated virtual participants using a computer algorithm called SMOTE.

Epilepsy Action’s health improvement and research manager Tom Shillito said: “For many people with epilepsy, knowing their triggers and avoiding them where possible can be a helpful and effective way to reduce the number of seizures they experience. We know that lack of sleep and stress are two of the seizure triggers most commonly reported by people with epilepsy and so it is promising that this research has highlighted a potential link between these factors and the frequency of seizures.”

“We welcome these findings and recognise this research as a positive step to better understand the physiological factors that cause seizures to occur. More research is needed to fully understand what mechanisms lead to seizures so people with epilepsy can be better informed about their triggers, and we hope more research will follow in this area.”

The report said: “Our findings provide conceptual evidence for the existence of underlying physiological drivers of rhythms of epileptiform discharges. These findings should motivate future research to explore these mechanisms in carefully designed experiments using animal models or people with epilepsy.”