Epilepsy and Sleep

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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder involving recurrent seizures. A seizure, also called convulsion, is a sudden change in behavior caused by increased electrical activity in the brain. The increase in electrical activity may result in unconsciousness and violent body shakes or simply a staring spell that may go unnoticed. There is no known exact cause for epilepsy but a number of factors may be at work. It can be brought on by anything that affects the brain, including tumors and strokes. Sometimes epilepsy is inherited. Often, no cause can be found.

Epilepsy is just one of many conditions that may cause seizures. Others include head injuries, infections in the brain, low blood sugar, drug use, and alcohol withdrawal. On the other hand, seizures are just the tip of the iceberg for people with epilepsy. In addition to working to prevent seizures, people with epilepsy typically face an array of other challenges including cognitive, social and medical problems. The good news is that epilepsy is not considered a degenerative disorder. That is, it can be controlled without getting worse and most epilepsy patients lead full and long lives.

There is an inherent relationship between sleep and epilepsy. Sleep activates the electrical charges in the brain that result in seizures and seizures are timed according to the sleep wake cycle. For some people, seizures occur exclusively during sleep. This is especially true for a particular type of epilepsy known as benign focal epilepsy of childhood, also known as Rolandic epilepsy. When seizures occur during sleep, they may cause awakenings that 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.

For people with epilepsy, sleep problems are a double-edged sword; epilepsy disturbs sleep and sleep deprivation aggravates epilepsy. The drugs used to treat epilepsy may also disturb sleep. Because lack of sleep is a trigger for seizures, achieving healthy sleep on a nightly basis is essential for people with epilepsy.

People with epilepsy also have a high incidence of


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