Living With OSA

The Important Link Between Sleep Apnea and Epilepsy

Often, people who have one health issue, such as epilepsy, will have others that can exacerbate the first one. This can be especially true when it comes to epilepsy and sleep disorders. Issues that interfere with restful sleep and normal brain electrical activity can make epilepsy worse. Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is the most common of the types of Sleep Apnea, has been associated with an increase in seizures in people who have epilepsy.

About .5% of the US population has epilepsy. An additional 1.5% to 5% has suffered at least one seizure at some point in their lives. Seizures can be extremely disruptive or even dangerous. Most people, with proper medication, can avoid seizures. There is also evidence that getting treatment for any accompanying sleep disorders can also decrease the likelihood of seizures.

Can sleep apnea cause seizures?

Sleep Apnea causes poor quality sleep. People who have Obstructive Sleep Apnea often stop breathing while sleeping for several seconds at a time. This can startle them partially or totally awake, interrupting their sleep patterns.

When someone has epilepsy, adequate sleep is more important than ever. In many cases, a lack of sleep is a trigger for seizures. Some people find that the first and only seizure they ever experience comes after an all-nighter spent studying or out with friends.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, it was found that around 40% of those who have epilepsy also have Sleep Apnea. Doctors performing a study in Alberta also found that children who had epilepsy were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders than their siblings who did not suffer from epilepsy. The type or severity of epilepsy does not seem to affect the prevalence of Sleep Apnea.

And, in a study of just under 800 epilepsy sufferers in Norway, it was found that lack of sleep, excessive tiredness, and emotional stress were the most common triggers for seizures.

A lack of sleep can contribute to seizures in a number of ways. First, there are many changes in hormones and electrical activity in the brain throughout the sleep/wake cycle. In some people, a lack of sleep can disrupt these signals, triggering a seizure.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea can also make other health problems worse, as well. People who have Sleep Apnea are more prone to heart problems, diabetes and sudden death from any cause.

In many people, restoring healthy sleep is imperative for controlling the frequency and severity of seizures. Sleep Apnea often remains undiagnosed. The American Sleep Apnea Association says that four out of five people with severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea remain undiagnosed.

When someone is suffering from Sleep Apnea seizures can be worse. Finding a diagnosis and getting treatment can restore restful sleep and help prevent frequent or severe epileptic seizures.

Can you have mini seizures while sleeping?

Some people find that their epilepsy is affected by their sleep patterns. While some people will not have issues with epilepsy and sleep, others will find that they are prone to mini seizures while they are sleeping. In these people, sleep activates the electrical signals that can lead to seizures. This can be especially true for people who have benign focal epilepsy, which is also known as Rolandic epilepsy.

The most common time of night for mini seizures is between stages one and two of sleep. These are times of lighter sleep when your brain is between sleeping and waking. However, seizures can also happen during heavier stages of sleep. A seizure may wake you or may occur without rousing you from sleep.

Talk to your doctor if you have sleep apnea symptoms

While detecting and controlling Obstructive Sleep Apnea can lead to better seizure control, many doctors still do not screen their patients with epilepsy for Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is most common in older adults. And, while the most common age to be diagnosed with epilepsy is under 10, the second most common time of life people develop epilepsy is 55 and older.

If you have any of the symptoms or risk factors below, you may have Sleep Apnea:

  • snoring.
  • unexplained waking.
  • a body mass index (BMI) over 30.
  • excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • dry mouth.
  • sore throat.
  • morning headaches.
  • choking or gasping in your sleep.

If you have any of these symptoms, your doctor can order a sleep study. This study will help determine whether you are getting proper sleep each night and whether your breathing is even and consistent throughout the night.

If issues with your sleep breathing patterns are found, there are therapies that can help. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, avoiding alcohol or quitting smoking can all help. CPAP machines are also effective in treating Sleep Apnea and producing better sleep at night. A CPAP helps keep breathing pathways unobstructed, leading to more consistent breathing throughout the night.

As a result, you do not suffer from the sleep interruptions that Sleep Apnea can cause. This, in turn, can help avoid the inadequate sleep that can contribute to worse or more frequent seizures.

The more you know about sleep and your health, the more empowered you are to protect it. To learn more about Sleep Apnea and to find valuable savings on CPAP machines and other equipment, subscribe to our newsletter.


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