Seizures While Sleeping

Seizures that occur during sleep are referred to as nocturnal seizures. This write-up provides information on the contributing factors for such seizures.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Jan 27, 2018
Seizures occur when there is an abnormal electrical activity in the brain. These are episodes of disturbance in the transmission of the electrical impulses that give rise to changes in one's behavior. Spasms, changes in sensory sensations, changes in emotions, or convulsions are some of the common symptoms. It must be noted that there are different types of seizures and not all involve convulsions or uncontrollable shaking of the body. The symptoms depend on the part of the brain affected by abnormal electrical activity. In some cases, the abnormal electrical activity might affect both sides of the brain (generalized), whereas only one side of the brain might be affected in some cases. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder wherein the individual has repeated seizures over time. While some people might have such episodes while they are awake, whereas some people might have seizures while sleeping.

Causes and Symptoms

The term 'nocturnal seizures' refers to the seizures that occur during sleep. Various changes take place in the brain waves during the transition from being wakeful to drowsy and then falling into light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Generally, such episodes occur when a person has just fallen asleep or just before the person is about to wake up. The episodes occur predominantly during the light sleep cycle. This condition could affect children as well as adults. Symptoms such as abnormal deep breathing and stiffening of limbs might be experienced. The affected person might experience jerky movements or spasms and fall back into slumber. Many a time, he/she might not even remember anything about the episode. As a result, he/she might wake up with a headache and feel groggy or drowsy during the day.

Children can get affected by febrile seizures, which are episodes that occur due to high fever. These might be associated with infections of the brain. Head trauma, bleeding within the brain, cerebral palsy, or metabolic disorders could also be the contributing factors. The episodes that occur within 28 days of birth might be attributed to birth defects. In case of infants, hydrocephalus or accumulation of fluid in the brain could be the contributing factor. The symptoms might include repetitive motions such as blinking, lip smacking, fluttering the eyelids, strange eyeball movements, repetitive, or jerky movements of hands and feet. Nocturnal seizures in babies might be a side effect of a vaccine. In case of adults, such episodes might be associated with disorders such as phenylketonuria, Alzheimer's disease, or Creutzfeld-Jacob disease. Brain injury, stroke, fluid buildup in the brain, or presence of brain tumors could also be responsible for abnormal brain activity. Lack of sleep, drug abuse, metabolic disorders, electrolyte disturbance, stress, smoking, or alcoholism are also some of the common causes of seizures in adults.


Certain diagnostic tests or imaging procedures help doctors determine if an underlying condition is behind the occurrence of seizures during sleep. Once the underlying condition is under control, the episodes might stop. The use of epilepsy medication along with dietary or lifestyle-related changes will surely prove beneficial in the treatment. Since stress or sleep deprivation often trigger such attacks, one must stay relaxed and try to establish a normal sleeping pattern. Certain measures must be taken to ensure the safety of individuals affected by nocturnal seizures. At times, one might even fall off from the bed. Therefore, it is advisable to sleep on a low lying bed. Safety mats must be placed next to the bed and furniture must not be placed next to the bed.

Since there is a high risk of injuries during such episodes, it would be best to seek medical assistance for proper treatment. Since night terrors or sleep apnea are confused with nocturnal seizures, doctors don't rely solely on the analysis of symptoms. Analysis of the video-EEG recordings might help the doctors diagnose the condition.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.