About Seizures During Sleep

Seizures are due to electrical activity in the brain, which results in changes in consciousness and movement. Symptoms of seizures vary in patients: some patients may just have a staring spell, while others may experience twitching in their limbs. According to Epilepsy Action, there are more than 40 different types of seizures 12. Some seizure patients have episodes when they are asleep, which can be alarming at first. The type of seizure that occurs is dependent on the cycle of sleep the patient is in.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement

One of the main states of sleep is non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM. During non-rapid eye movement sleep, you experience little body movement and have regular breathing; non-rapid eye movement sleep accounts for 75 percent of a night's sleeping, according to Epilepsy Action 2. Patients who have seizures during non-rapid eye movement sleep have generalized seizures. Generalized seizures last between one and two minutes, and the electrical activity of the seizures occurs on both hemispheres of the brain, according to the Epilepsy Foundation 12.

Rapid Eye Movement

The other main state of sleep is rapid eye movement, abbreviated as REM. During rapid eye movement sleep, you have irregular breathing, as well as twitching in your face, arms and legs, according to Epilepsy Action 2. Patients who have seizures during rapid eye movement sleep have partial seizures, which occur for around 90 seconds. Unlike generalized seizures, the electrical activity of a partial seizure occurs on only one hemisphere of the brain, according to the Epilepsy Foundation 12.

Other Conditions

According to Epilepsy Action, other sleep-related conditions are often confused with sleep seizures 12. These conditions include sleep walking, sleep terrors, bed-wetting, restless-leg syndrome, sleep apnea and narcolepsy 2. Your doctor will use an EEG to determine if epileptic activity is the cause.


According to Epilepsy Action, anti-epileptic drugs, or AEDs, are the most commonly prescribed treatment for sleep seizures 12. Anti-epileptic drugs work by controlling the electrical excitability in the brain, which triggers seizures. However, Epilepsy Action warns that patients should take their medication daily, because a missed dose can trigger a seizure 2.

Sleep Deprivation

According to Epilepsy Action, disturbed sleep patterns, such as sleep deprivation and changes in sleep, can result in sleep seizures 12. Epilepsy Action recommends that patients should have regular hours of sleep and waking 2. However, patients should not strive for additional sleep, as excess sleep may also trigger a seizure in some patients.