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Sleep and epilepsy

This information looks at the connection between epilepsy, seizures, medicines and sleep. It also gives hints and tips for better sleep and better seizure control if seizures are connected with sleep.

Can epilepsy affect my sleep?

There are some types of epilepsy where seizures have a particular connection with sleep.  And seizures can be related to different stages of sleep. There are several stages of sleep, with different brain activity in each.

What are the different stages of sleep?

Stage 1 Non-REM sleep

Drowsiness - this stage lasts 5 or 10 minutes. Your eyes move slowly under your eyelids, your muscles begin to relax and you are easy to wake up.

Stage 2 Non-REM sleep

Light sleep - your eye movements stop, your heart rate slows, and your body cools down.

Stage 3 Non-REM sleep

Deep sleep - it's not easy to wake you during these stages of sleep. If you do wake, you will be groggy and not quite with it for a few minutes. This kind of sleep allows your brain to rest and restores your energy. Your immune system is helped by deep sleep.

REM sleep

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - about 70 to 90 minutes into your sleep cycle, you enter REM sleep. You usually have 3 – 5 episodes of REM sleep each night. This stage is associated with processing your emotions, filing your memories and relieving your stress.

Possible effects of seizures on sleep

If you have a seizure during your sleep, it affects your sleep for the rest of the night. Your sleep becomes lighter, and you wake more often. The most serious effects are on REM sleep, which is greatly reduced, and may even disappear. Seizures when you're awake can also reduce your REM sleep the following night.

Although it's important to get enough REM sleep, it's not clear how to do that, apart from controlling your seizures. If your seizures aren't fully controlled, ask your doctor to refer you to an epilepsy specialist for an assessment of your epilepsy and your epilepsy medicine.

If it's not possible to control all your seizures, you should try to catch up on missed sleep, particularly in the day or two after a seizure.

Possible effects of epilepsy medicines on sleep

Most people with epilepsy take epilepsy medicines to control their seizures.  Like all types of medicine, epilepsy medicines can have unwanted side-effects.The following epilepsy medicines may have sleep-related side-effects.

Epilepsy medicine Side-effect 
Ethosuximide sleep disturbances, night terrors
Lamotrigine insomnia (difficulty sleeping), sleep disturbance
Pregabalin insomnia, abnormal dreams
Topiramate sleep disturbance

If you are concerned that your epilepsy medicine is causing side-effects, speak with your doctor. They may be able to help.

How could my type of epilepsy affect my sleep?

There are many different types of epilepsy. And some seem to be particularly related to sleep. Three of the more common are generalised tonic-clonic seizures on awakening, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, and benign epilepsy of childhood with centro-temporal spikes.

Generalised tonic-clonic seizures on awakening

In this type of epilepsy, you have tonic-clonic seizures either just before, or just after, you wake. This may be in the morning, after a night's sleep, or during the day after a nap.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME)

In JME, your seizures usually happen shortly after waking. They may happen at other times when you are very tired. Not having enough sleep could make your seizures more likely.

Epilepsy Action has more information about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Benign epilepsy of childhood with centro-temporal spikes (Benign rolandic epilepsy)

If you have this type of epilepsy, you will have focal (partial) seizures, in your sleep. Occasionally, you might have seizures when you are awake.

Epilepsy Action has more information about benign rolandic epilepsy

Focal (partial) seizures

In focal seizures, epileptic activity starts in just a part of your brain. And it is common for focal seizures to happen while you are asleep.

Epilepsy Action has more information about focal seizures

Why it's important to get enough sleep

People tell us that they have more energy, think more clearly and react more quickly after a good night's sleep. Between 2 and 9 people in every 10 with epilepsy find not having enough sleep makes their seizures more likely. 

Tips to help you get enough sleep:

  • Keep regular sleeping hours
  • Wind down by:
    • Writing a 'to do' list
    • Doing relaxation exercises
    • Listening to a relaxation CD
    • Reading a book
    • Listening to the radio
  • Create the right environment in the bedroom
    • No TV or electronic devices
    • Dark
    • Quiet
    • Tidy
    • Smells fresh
    • Good temperature for you
    • Have a comfortable bed

We all have different ways of getting enough sleep. This is what some people with epilepsy say:

"If I don't get enough sleep, I'm far more likely to have a seizure next morning. I need about 8 hours, so I always aim to be in bed by 10 pm, so I can read for an hour before going to sleep."

"I've recently become a mum, so as you can imagine, lack of sleep is a huge issue. Luckily, my partner is really supportive and does what he can to help. He does a lot of the night time feeds. If he's away, my friend stays with us for the night, so she can do them. My health visitor has given me loads of helpful advice about setting a sleep routine for the baby. As soon as she is sleeping more soundly, so will the rest of us!"

"Sleep is a real problem for me sometimes, especially if I'm feeling stressed, or I've had to work in the evening. I've learnt to never go to bed until I'm feeling sleepy – some nights this can be after midnight, if I've been working late. If I haven't fallen asleep within half an hour, I'll get back up and make myself a hot milky drink, then wait until I feel sleepy."

Epilepsy with sleep disorders

People with epilepsy have a higher chance of also having a ‘sleep disorder'  than people who don't have epilepsy.  Sleep disorders include obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and night terrors. Sleep disorders can affect seizures because broken sleep can trigger seizures.

You can get information about sleep disorders from NHS Choices
Website: nhschoices.uk

If there's any possibility that you have a sleep disorder, your doctor may be able to refer you for a sleep study. Sleep studies can take different forms and can help to show exactly what problems you're having while you're asleep. 

SUDEP and sleep

Some people only have seizures during their sleep, some people have seizures when awake and asleep, and some people never have sleep seizures.  
Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) happens when a person with epilepsy dies suddenly and unexpectedly, and no obvious cause of death can be found.  SUDEP has been shown to be connected with seizures but an exact cause has not been found.  But we do know that if you have uncontrolled tonic-clonic seizures  in your sleep, and sleep alone, you are at increased risk of SUDEP. 

Epilepsy Action has more information about SUDEP

If you are still having seizures, see our information about getting the right treatment and care for your epilepsy

Alerting others to your seizures

If you worry about having a seizure and not having anyone to make sure you're safe, you could consider getting a seizure alarm.

There are different kinds of alarm available. What type you need will depend on the types of seizures you have. For example, some alarms are sensitive to movement. So if you have tonic-clonic seizures during sleep, then this type of alarm should detect them. There are other types of alarm available.

Alarms will only be useful if there is someone the alarm could alert, so they can help you.

Epilepsy Action has more information about alarms

Anti-suffocation pillows

Some people who have sleep seizures use anti-suffocation pillows. These may be safer than ordinary pillows, although we don't have any research to prove this. If you are thinking about buying an anti-suffocation pillow, discuss this with your epilepsy nurse or epilepsy specialist, to see if they think this will help you.

Further information

You can get further information about any of the issues discussed here from your family doctor, epilepsy nurse or epilepsy specialist.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. Or please contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline on freephone 0808 800 5050.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Phil Smith, Consultant Neurologist, University Hospital of Wales, for his help in producing this information. Dr Smith has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated August 2015
    To be reviewed August 2018

Comments: read the 14 comments or add yours


I still take Seizure once every month but still take twice pills every day but pills sound Didnt work to me so i was epilepsy for 18 year i still suffer my hard life

Submitted by John m shankly on

my boy is 8yo he a.l.l at age 18 mons.in remission 6yrs. nowwas dignoised with epilepsy . he has eeg test witch says as he is sleeping his brain is lit up like a christmas tree... his dailey activity of seizure like episodes are rolling eyes, staring, hands burn , rapid heart beat,slow movements, delayed responses, sweats,hunger, dry mouth, pale around mouth, mouth movements, headaches, touching the face frequently, tapping his head, repeats hisself, see's and hears things that arent there at times, exhausted..... we are seeing 3 neuroligist at this time and they are haveing trouble explaing what is going on. says he is haveing seizures 2-3 min.s but the other activity is not seizures .... plz any info or thoughts may help that i may bring to the dr.s att.

Submitted by dasie on

Hi Dasie

It must have been such a shock when your son’s seizures started again after such a long time. Unfortunately, this can happen and there isn’t always an explanation.

As trained epilepsy advisers, we can give general information on epilepsy and the symptoms of the different seizure types, but we are not able to diagnose your son.

As the doctors are having difficulties with diagnosing all your son’s symptoms, I hope that at least one of the three neurologists looking after him is a specialist in epilepsy. It’s important when epilepsy is suspected that a specialist in this field is involved in the diagnosis.

If you don’t already, you could keep a diary and video record some of your son’s symptoms/episodes. Both of these can help the doctors with their diagnosis.

In some cases the doctor may arrange for a video telemetry to be done.  A video-telemetry test involves wearing an ambulatory EEG and at the same time, they video your son. The test is usually carried out in hospital over a few days.

I hope all your sons symptoms are diagnosis soon and he gets the help he needs.


Diane Wallace

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

thank you so much for this site I found I had a massive benign brain tumour while living in UK in 1996 due to years of undiagnosed night seizures. I had the surgery back here in Aust. But came back to UK to marry my Brittish boyfriend.

I joined the UK epilepsy association as I then had simple partial seizures due to brain scar. Your association so very helpful that I would ring when I had night problems as it was our day. This was in my early days of epilepsy now by chance I asked Google a question re rare jaw snap action as I fall asleep.

You have also given me vital understanding of my sleep difficulties since neurologist took my tegretol down which has made a huge difference to memory thankfully but with my medication of lamotrigine up I didn't realise it was the reason for all my sleep problems until I asked Google about this jaw snap. Thank you.

We go back to UK every year or two so I would like to donate to your good site and also will use it more now I have found it.

Cheers, Elaine

Submitted by elaine lillystone on

I am 16 i have been suffering from absence seizeres since i was 10 and grad mals since i was 6

My grad mals are now controlled by 1,500 g twice a day of keppra and two operations removing a bengin brain tumor one in 2012 and 2013 . However depise this i am still suffering from peit mals .

They hadnt happened for at least a year in 2014 and now are happening again in clusters over the last week i have had 5 fits .

I dont know what to do it is affecting my college education and my genral life .

Can medication stop working after a period of time . Would it be a good idea to see other medication options

Submitted by Sally on

Hi Sally

I’m sorry to hear your seizures have returned. It sounds like a very difficult time for you.  

It would be good if you spoke to your doctor or epilepsy nurse about your seizures and treatment. There are many different epilepsy medicines available, so it could be worth discussing if Keppra is still right for you. They can review your treatment and look at possible reasons for your seizures to have returned. They may suggest trying a different epilepsy medicine or ask you to take another epilepsy medicine along with your Keppra. 

There are other treatment options for epilepsy. These are usually looked into if you have tried various types of epilepsy medicines and you are still having seizures.

Some people with epilepsy use complementary treatments to try and lower the number of seizures they have. Or they use them to improve their quality of life.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any type of complementary treatment can reduce or stop seizures. If you are thinking about trying any, talk this over with your doctor or epilepsy nurse.

As your epilepsy is affecting you at college, if you haven’t already, it would be advisable to talk to your form teacher, head of year or SENCO. Your college have a duty to support you so you do as well as possible in your studies. You could also talk to them about how you are feeling emotionally. The college also have a duty to help with how you are feeling. This is referred to as social wellbeing.

I hope this is of help. If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk  or phone the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.


Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

I am suffering by epilepsy since last ten years ,. The fact that I have suffered ten times during last ten years all time affected time is during 1.00 P.M. TO 5.00P.M.
I have taking Eption 100 mg ( Twice a day ) , and Gardinal 60 mg ( Per day )
Can I get better medicine and advice .



Submitted by SURESH RAGHUNAT... on

Dear Suresh

Thank you for your question.

The epilepsy medicines you are on, are older ones. There are more and newer medicines available in the UK.

And here is all our information about epilepsy treatment.

I’m not sure where you live, so I am linking you to the list of international epilepsy organisations. The ‘chapter’ drop down list enables you to choose the country where you live. Hopefully you will be able to get more useful information from them.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

Hi Iv been on 200mg of lamotagine a day for over 2 years now and for the last year I been having real bad nightmares like I'm getting stabbed or stabbing someone or my girlfriend cheating on me but there getting worse and really really getting me down waking up 5 times a night soaking with sweat !! Then iv got to leave for work at 6am . Please somone give me some advice is it the tablets ?

Submitted by Ross on

Hi Ross

I have replied to you by private email. Do hope things improve for you soon.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on


These medications have contributed to INSOMNIA...My night time has become my daytime meaning the body system consumes the medical anomaly throughout the night and by morning (between 5am and 6am) when I have repeatedly visited the loo my sleep kicks in.

But only for a short while when my morning alarm goes off at 9am for my morning dosage.....It's a battle!

Submitted by Lenny on

Hi Lenny
What you are experiencing sound terrible. If you haven’t already, why don’t you talk to your epilepsy specialist, epilepsy nurse or your family doctor about your insomnia. They may be able to suggest something to help.

I hope things improve for you really soon.


Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

I was diagnosed with tonic seizures about a year ago. In the last 3 months I have fallen out of bed twice. Once hitting my head and cutting it open. I don't remember any of these. Could I be having seizures at night. I also sleep walk as advise would be much appreciated

Submitted by Lisa Gomez-Prince on

Hi Lisa

Yes it is possible you have having seizures at night. Sometimes people put something soft by their bed to cushion a fall. It’s also a good idea to move anything with sharp corners away from the bed if at all possible. You might find our information on safety in the bedroom useful.

There is some information about sleep walking, on the NHS Choices website.

I hope this is useful.

Epilepsy Action Advice and information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on