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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 medicineSide-effect 
Ethosuximidesleep disturbances, night terrors
Lamotrigineinsomnia (difficulty sleeping), sleep disturbance
Pregabalininsomnia, abnormal dreams
Topiramatesleep 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. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.


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 17 comments or add yours


I'm trying to find out whether not getting enough sleep is likely to increase my likelihood of having another seizure, but this statement in this article is very unclear:
"Between 2 and 9 people in every 10 with epilepsy find not having enough sleep makes their seizures more likely."
Somewhere between 20% and 90% of people finding that lack of sleep increases seizure likelihood doesn't really narrow it down much! Is this a mistake or is there no better information on this?
By way of background, I have epilepsy, and am fortunate enough to have it perfectly controlled by Lamotrigine (50mg twice a day), since starting the medication over 10 years ago. However, I have recently noticed frequent spells of dizziness and lack of balance during the day. I'd like to rule out a link to epilepsy if I can. I have also had less sleep than usual recently and wondering if it could cause the seizures to return.
Thank you.

Submitted by Kathy Thompson on

Hello Kathy

I appreciate your comment about the wide range given for people reporting a lack of sleep increasing seizures. It is understandable that this range would feel frustrating, but it is possible that it reflects how different epilepsy can be for each person. All of the information on our website is based upon evidenced research. 

For some people, there are certain things which can make the chances of having a seizure more likely. These are called seizure triggers. Some people do report that not getting enough sleep can be a trigger for them. You may find it helpful to keep a seizure diary to try and identify whether you have any seizure triggers.

If you are worried that you may be experiencing a change in your seizures at the moment, then it would be worth you talking to your neurologist or epilepsy nurse. This will give you the opportunity to talk about what has been happening, and to check that your epilepsy medicines are still the best ones for you.

If you would like to talk more about this, or if we can be of any more help, please feel free to get in touch with our helpline team.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Karen@Epilepsy ... on

I had my first ever seizure 22 nov 2015 in bed general tonic clonic lasting about 2mins witnessed by husband. Second seizure 10 jan 2016 after being awakened by motorbikes outside this time only lasted around 30 seconds. I bit my tongue in both seizures. I am almost 29. Ct scan was normal awaiting mri & neurologist appointment. Why has this happened at my age?

Submitted by Aimee on

Hello Aimee,
My wife had her very first seizure jan, 20 2016. Then 3 weeks later & again this morning the 16th of feb. She just turned 30 in December. Your info sounds almost identical to hers. She had the e.e.g. that showed hardly anything. She goes into the mri this friday. I was wondering if you have found anything more with your mri. We're all really scared of the unknown! If you could reply that would be incredibly appreciated!
I pray you & family find the answers your looking for !
Thanks, Coal

Submitted by Coal on

robert my son had a sickness and he was being sick and bringing his medication up And hed been doing so well so he had to go in hospital becoz the seziures had got out of controll so theyve increased his keppra but hes high all the time he had to stay in hospital for 2 weeks And hes disabled he cant talk i dont know if its the staying in hospital for 2 weeks or the keppra dont know what to do for the best

Submitted by ruth booth on

Hi Ruth
It must be a very worrying time for you.

It’s possible for keppra to cause side-effects when increased. But these should lessen or disappear once your son’s body has had a few days or weeks to get used to taking it.

If your son is still in hospital you could ask his doctors if it could be his keppra causing the change in his behaviour. If they think it could be, they might make changes to his treatment to see if this helps.

As your son is having seizures again, is he being seen by an epilepsy specialist? If not, it would be a good idea if he could be referred to one. Let us know where you are, and we’ll try to point you in the right direction.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Hey sir
My question is about my brother one week ago he was sleeping suddenly hes started deep breathing with sound like hes in scary dream. I tried to wake him up he didnt awake then upon had eyes like hes compused looking me i tried to make him calm like half n hour after he start taking talking normally he cut has thung with teeth and he got back pain also and he remember anything also what ever happend? I took him to hospital dr. Did blood test ct scan for brain everything is normal dr. Him depakine 200mg tablets twice a day to use and given appointment for neirologist.? Still we dont know what happend to him

Submitted by Sameer on

Hi Sameer
It must have been very worrying when this happened to your brother. You might want to have a look at some more of our information about epilepsy. When your brother sees the neurologist he should be able to find out more about what happened to him.

This tell you about seizures: epilepsy.org.uk/info/seizures/generalised-seizures

This shows you what to do when someone has a seizure: epilepsy.org.uk/info/firstaid

Best wishes.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Shelley, Epilep... on

I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 3 years old and had my last seizure at age of 10. Came of tegretol 200mg twice a day gradually from age 10-16years old. Epilepsy came back having sleep seizures when I was 22years old I'm now 32 and still having sleep seizures when choosing wakes me up I feel scared tense body's stiff and it lasts for maybe 2-3minutes. On 275mg lamotrigine twice a day. Think I'm going to ring my epilepsy specialist nurse today as I'm a full time student doing childcare and it's affecting me having to take time of from learning at my placement at a nursery and my course only has 5 weeks to go. And I'm determined to complete this. Do you recommend anything else???

Submitted by Miss Kimberley ... on

Hi Kimberley
Thanks for your message. It sounds like you are going through a tough time at the moment. Ringing your epilepsy nurse sounds like a good idea. I hope they are able to help.

If you are having to take time off from your placement because of your epilepsy you might want to talk to your course tutor or the disability officer at your college. Under the equality laws they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you complete your course. This might include making allowances for the time you’ve had to take off, or helping you to catch up with anything you’ve missed. Our advice for students with epilepsy page has more information.

Some people with epilepsy find that certain things make them more likely to have seizures, for example lack of sleep or stress. These are often called seizure triggers. If you think anything might be triggering your seizures, finding ways to avoid your triggers might help.

I hope this information helps. Good luck with your course, and if you have any other questions please feel free to contact us at the Epilepsy Action Helpine.

Best wishes
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Grace, Epilepsy... on

I am asking for my husband Paul .Paul recently had two sets of clusters the doctor put him on Zonisamide 50mg every two weeks to be increased to 200mg .Paul also takes Levetiracetam 1500 mg am & 2000mg pm.Hewasnt feeling to good as he got to 150mg of Zonisamide.He was feeling down and very quite and disoriented.I called the nurses and told them how he felt and said he wasn't willin to increase the Zonisamide to the maximum of 200 mg.Paul decided to just take 100mg of Zonisamide but. Stil didn't feel good so decided to stop the Zonisamide 3 days ago . Today he had a seizure which is unusual as he only has his seizures at nightCan what Paul did stopping the medication have brought the seizure on.

Submitted by Lynn Garlick on

Dear Lynn
Thank you for your question. It sounds like your husband is having a really difficult time.

Stopping his epilepsy medicine quickly, could have caused his seizures. The withdrawal of epilepsy medicine is usually done very gradually, to help prevent seizures from happening.

It would be good if he talked to his epilepsy nurse again. There are many different epilepsy medicines available, so it could be worth discussing if there is an alternative medicine he could try.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

my 16 year old son had his first full tonic/clonic seizure on the 1st sept, just after he had got up, we saw a epilepsy consultant, who has referred him for a sleep deprived EEG, today 18th oct, he had another full tonic/clonic seizure just as he was about to get up. i've contacted the doctor's secretary to let them know. just hoping they will be able to help him.

Submitted by Helen caine on

I have had JME for 18 years, I am now 31. I am overweight and really struggle to sleep. I was recently advised to use a CPAP machine which I couldn't get used to plus when I was getting good sleep, because I am so used to having disturbed sleep of say 3-4 hours a night, when I got 7-8 hours I felt awful and the seizures came back. I don't know what to do anymore as I need the sleep but when I get it, I'm ill.
I've tried little things like making my room comfortable, etc. One thing advised is a comfy bed but being a mature student, I cannot afford one. Are there any grants available for such thing?
Thanks in advance

Submitted by Lee Fitzpatrick on


Hi Lee


That sounds like a difficult situation to be in.


I wonder if you’re taking Epilim for your JME? A common side effect of Epilim is weight gain. So, if you haven’t already done so, you may want to talk to your neurologist about the possibility of changing to another epilepsy medicine.


I wonder if the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association may have any useful information for you.


The best place to look for possible grants is the Turn2Us website. You can do your own search or you can ring their helpline on 0808 802 2000.

I really hope something in this information will help things to improve for you.





Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

My nephew suffers from Myoclonic epilepsy some times the seizures can last just 30 seconds and sometimes up to 3 minutes give or take. I'm just wondering if it is normal that he sleeps for a long period of time after he has had a 'big' seizure as he can sometimes sleep for up to six hours afterwards and his doctors don't really seem to be too interested and often doubt anything his mother tells them when he goes for check ups, thanks.

Submitted by Paige on

Hi Paige
Thank you for contacting us about your nephew.

The recovery from a myoclonic seizure is very individual. Some people may need to sleep for some hours afterwards.

It may help his mother to share this information with his epilepsy specialist if she keeps a note of it in his seizure diary, alongside his seizure activity.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us directly. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.ukor phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on