Epilepsy Talk

The Nightmare of Nocturnal Seizures | February 7, 2018

According to an article in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, if more than 90 percent of your seizures occur while sleeping, you are said to have sleep seizures.

The article also notes that an estimated 7.5 percent to 45 percent of people who have epilepsy have some form of sleep seizures.

Since seizures occur in sleep during the night, it’s often hard to diagnose them, except for unusual movements at night, confusion upon awakening, bed wetting or falling out of bed.

However, these symptoms are also a kind of parasomnia — an umbrella term for a group of sleep disorders that include night terrors, sleepwalking, teeth grinding, and restless leg syndrome.

It’s believed that sleep seizures are triggered by changes in the electrical activity in your brain during the stages of sleeping and awakening. Most nocturnal seizures occur in stage 1 and stage 2, which are the stages of lighter sleep.

And nocturnal awakenings are sometimes confused with insomnia. Epilepsy patients are often unaware of the seizures that occur while they sleep.

They may suffer for years from daytime fatigue and concentration problems without ever knowing why.

In contrast, panic attacks typically occur within three hours of sleep onset and are most commonly seen in the transition from stage 2 to stage 3 sleep.

And after these night terrors, which are accompanied by screaming and intense fear, the person falls back to sleep and sometimes has no recollection of the episode when awakening in the morning, except in some cases, waking with a bitten tongue or a disordered bed.

Other people can recall the episode in the morning and this frequently leads to dread and anticipation of another attack.

Nocturnal seizures are associated with certain types of epilepsy, including:

Juvenile myoclonic
Awakening grand mal
Benign rolandic (also called benign focal epilepsy of childhood)
Electrical status epilepticus of sleep
Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS)
Frontal onset seizures

Doctors evaluate a number of factors to diagnose epilepsy and determine the type. Factors include:
The type of seizures you have
The age when you began having seizures
Family history of epilepsy

To diagnose epilepsy, doctors may use:
Images of electrical activity in your brain recorded by an electroencephalogram (EEG)
The structure of your brain as shown in a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A record or diary of your seizure activity

Sleep studies (Polysomnography) with expanded EEG aids can indicate the difference between seizures and parasomnias.

If being observed in a sleep lab, there is a decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) and an increase in the lighter stages of sleep, according to the article “Nocturnal Seizures,” by Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD.

It doesn’t take the fear away, but it can help diagnose and treat the nightmare of nocturnal seizures.


To subscribe to Epilepsytalk.com and get the latest articles by email, simply go to the bottom box of the right column, enter your email address and click on “Follow.”



  1. So true.
    Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…. (it has deep meaning).
    Very difficult to explain to people. Especially if they don’t have Epilepsy.
    Does not matter if they are doctors, family, friends. (So, I just don’t talk about it anymore).
    Wake up; tongue bitten, bumps, bruises, etc.
    God, body control exercises, diet, (and surprisingly the Guitar) help.
    Looking for to learning more about the ‘External VNS’.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Robert — February 7, 2018 @ 1:12 PM

  2. I was 65 before i experienced my first nocturnal seizure, I’m lucky that they are currently out to 10 weeks apart, 5 years latter, one thing I do note from reading this artical, as a child growing up, I suffered from bed wetting until into my teens


    Comment by Donald — February 7, 2018 @ 2:37 PM

    • Amazing that your seizures are timed that way. So in sync.

      The bed wetting must have been terribly embarrassing. 😦


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 7, 2018 @ 5:32 PM

  3. Phyllis,
    About 15 years ago, I kept refusing to believe & accept that I’m having seizures in my sleep & rejected to seek medical attention.
    But family pressure & employment ultimatums made it very difficult to ignore the obvious, therefore medical examination became the only alternative to settle the whole ordeal.

    Scheduled to stay at Stanford University Hospital for a week & the hospital recording my two Grandmal seizures in sleep on video, finally became the most shocking wake up moments in my life.

    Shocked in what I saw on the videos, having two of my own grandmal seizures in a week on my sleep, I finally learned to accept the bitter truth & started to seek medical treatments & take medications, to stop or reduce the frequency of my seizures.

    Knowing nothing about seizures to only wake up & wonder WHY I was laying down in Ambulance or ER Hospital bed had finally got a concrete answer, eliminating the confusion & denial of the medical/neurological disorder, seeking medical attention to overcome the ordeal.

    In the end, I learned that having seizures on sleep is certainly the most difficult way to learn about seizures, prolonging the immediate need for medical attention.


    Comment by BahreNegash Eritrea — February 7, 2018 @ 2:56 PM

    • Well at least now, as you say; you’ve “finally got a concrete answer, eliminating the confusion & denial of the medical/neurological disorder.”

      Which is more than a lot of people can say. Up to 30% of them, in fact. (But you already know that, Gerrie.)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 7, 2018 @ 5:40 PM

  4. A grand mal seizure isn’t fun at any time but I’ve come to think of my night time only seizures as more of a positive thing….in that I have them in the safety of my bed….no falling down stairs, etc. Have to find a silver lining where one can right? Curious….is treatment different for this type of epilepsy? Or is the medication still the same kind of thing one takes for any other kind? Just wondering. Blessings to all fellow warriors


    Comment by Ellen LaFrancis — February 7, 2018 @ 4:22 PM

    • Well it’s good news when you know where you are. Otherwise…

      I believe treatment and medication are the same. The only difference is, it’s difficult sometimes to pick up a nocturnal seizure in testing.

      What meds do you take, Ellen?


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 7, 2018 @ 5:49 PM

      • Currently on Zonisamide (generic Zonegran) and Lamotragine (generic Lamictal). My husband is always there to let me know what has happened. Most of the time, I sleep through all the way until morning. Once, when I rolled out of the bed, I awakened on the floor, uninjured but quite confused within a half hour or so of the seizure. My husband is used to all of this….activity by now…he times the seizure, and makes certain that I am safe. It’s all he can do though after several years of this, he still finds it…awful to witness. Sorry for the misspelled words…I’m being held down by a large dog who thinks he’s a lap dog….can’t grab the bottle to check the spelling lol.


        Comment by Ellen LaFrancis — February 7, 2018 @ 11:00 PM

      • Thank God for your husband. I feel for his pain in seeing his loved one suffering.

        As for your “lap dog”, I have a kitten who swears she is a writer!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 8, 2018 @ 8:42 AM

  5. Had no idea that sleep apnoea can trigger seizures!
    It was an informative article.


    Comment by Priya Mathew — February 7, 2018 @ 6:37 PM

  6. Dear Phylis, Thanks so much for explaining these in greater detail. Friends of mine have these, and I could only imagine the pain. I thought I might have had them because of my erratic sleep patterns. But my epi has assured me it is a bizarre combination of living circumstances, stress, TMJ and occasional leg pain. It is great to have a deeper knowledge.


    Comment by megambon2164 — February 8, 2018 @ 9:26 AM

    • Well, stress is enough to prevent a good night’s sleep. Or cause seizures in your sleep. Happily, the second is not the case. But the stress in itself is a nightmare.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 8, 2018 @ 10:16 AM

  7. Since I weaned myself off meds I don’t remember my nocturnal seizures Phylis but I can concur with you on all of this.


    Comment by chaplinslivingstatue — February 10, 2018 @ 2:25 AM

  8. A really helpful post.


    Comment by AS I THINK I SAY - Living life according to me. — March 3, 2018 @ 11:55 AM

  9. Help my name is Zara last night i suffered the most terrifying nightmare awakening to me screaming no no no i was stuck and so afraid to move for wat seemed like a life time my heart was racing so fast i felt sick when i did finally manage to move and get out of bed the intense fear has been with me all day with intense crying and locked all doors windows and have been terrified of every souund and movement accompanied with confusion and fear of who to call or trust i do now seem and feel like i am co.ing round but feel like i have been in a car crash and up for days i have had previous episode but never anything as frightening as this


    Comment by zara — May 18, 2018 @ 11:55 AM

    • Zara, it sounds like night terrors to me.

      Panic attacks — or night terrors — typically occur within three hours of sleep onset and are most commonly seen in the transition from stage 2 to stage 3 sleep.

      They’re accompanied by screaming and intense fear.

      Sometimes the person falls back to sleep and sometimes has no recollection of the episode when awakening in the morning.

      Other people can recall the episode in the morning and this frequently leads to dread and anticipation of another attack.

      This article may help you understand:

      Epilepsy Nightmares – WHY?



      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 18, 2018 @ 4:09 PM

      • Thank u so much for ur help x i came around later that day with the help of a friend however i did feel spaced out almost as if the world around me was not quite real many thanks i s did feel extreme exhaustion tho for the day


        Comment by zara — May 19, 2018 @ 8:52 AM

      • The best thing is rest.

        But you might consider a sleep study to to distinguish between these night terrors and nocturnal seizures.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 19, 2018 @ 10:10 AM

  10. Timed glucose (brainglucose online) can help diabetics avoid seizure overnight. It may help those suffering nocturnal seizures by other medical problems.


    Comment by jon — May 20, 2018 @ 10:53 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

    View Full Profile →

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive free notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 2,536 other followers

    Follow Epilepsy Talk on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: