About nocturnal epilepsy

Updated February 21, 2017

Nocturnal epilepsy is a disorder in which the patient experiences symptoms of seizures at night, usually while they are asleep. These seizures are usually tonic-clonic seizures, where the patient may fall into a deep sleep or lose consciousness immediately after their seizure. Nocturnal seizures are manageable with medication, adequate rest, and a good diet. It is not out of the ordinary for people who experience nocturnal seizures to be very tired during the day, especially the day after they have had a seizure. If you feel you have been jolting awake in the middle of the night and think you may have experienced a seizure, see a doctor as soon as possible.


To determine if you are experiencing nocturnal seizures, see a doctor. The doctor will give you several tests, including an electroencephalogram test to measure the brain's electrical activity. An electroencephalogram test is the premiere test given in order to diagnose epilepsy. If you are experiencing seizures during the day, there is a chance you will also experience them while you are asleep. It is rare to experience seizures only while you are sleeping, but see a doctor if you think you are experiencing seizures at night in order to get tested for epilepsy.


Patients who suffer with nocturnal epilepsy may experience seizures just as they are waking up or right before they wake up. If you have this type of seizures, your condition is called "awakening grand mal epilepsy." The patient will experience clonic-tonic seizures several minutes before they awake from sleep or a nap, or just as they are waking up. Patients who experience seizures that occur during sleep rather than at a period of waking are usually diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy. Frontal lobe seizures almost exclusively happen while the patient is asleep and last several minutes.


Effects of seizures while sleeping are in several ways, less dangerous than seizures while awake. Because the patient will be in bed while a night seizure occurs, there is less likelihood that the person will injure himself when the seizure begins. It is far less dangerous to be lying down while experiencing a seizure than it is to be standing. Night seizures as opposed to day seizures will have an effect on the body's REM sleep. If the body experiences a seizure in the middle of the night, the body will be jolted out of the REM sleep and start at the beginning of the sleep cycle again. This may cause the patient to feel very tired on days following episodes of nocturnal epilepsy.

Time Frame

Seizures generally only last a few minutes, and following a seizure, a patient can usually function normally in 10 or 15 minutes. However, seizures will lead to a feeling of general malaise on some patients for several days following the episode. Nocturnal epileptics may experience disturbances in REM sleep not only the night of their seizure, but the next few following nights as well. Getting a lot of rest is important in order to ensure a quick recovery after having a nocturnal seizure.


Patients who experience frequent night seizures should consider sleeping in a bed close to the ground or on the floor to reduce the risk of injury. If you are a patient who experiences nocturnal epilepsy, you should be on a medication that works for you. See a doctor if you are not satisfied with the medication you are on, and do not skip doses. If you are getting the right amount of sleep but still feel tired or drugged after waking in the morning, see your doctor about changing your medication or your sleeping schedule.

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