Nocturnal seizures are a form of epilepsy. Those affected might not consciously remember them or have anyone else observe the seizures. Children more frequently experience them, but adults can have them too. They are triggered by stress, photo sensitivity, sleep deprivation, medications, obstructive sleep apnoea and more. Other sleep disturbances are often confused with nocturnal seizures such as night terrors, sleepwalking and other parasomnias (types of sleep disorders).
Nocturnal Seizure Types
Certain forms of epilepsy are associated with nocturnal seizures. These types are juvenile myoclonic, grand mal on awakening, autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy, benign Rolandic epilepsy and Landau-Kleffner syndrome.
Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is common, accounting for 7 per cent of all epilepsy diagnoses. Affected children and teenagers have arm and leg jerking (myoclonic), and these symptoms usually persist into adulthood, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Grand mal seizures on awakening (could be daytime awakening too) occur right after waking up from sleep. Generally, age 25 to 43 years is the onset. Seizures tend to involve both sides of the body and the person is unconscious during them. The seizure alternates between rigid muscles and then shaking.
Autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy (ADNFLE) is characterised by clusters of nighttime seizures that might last five seconds up to five minutes. The episodes include abrupt waking up to more pronounced body rigidity or movement. The average age of onset is 10 years, but it can happen up to 20 years of age, according to the article "Autosomal Dominant Nocturnal Frontal Lobe Epilepsy," by Samuel F. Berkovic, MD, and Ingrid E. Scheffer, PhD.
Benign Rolandic epilepsy is more common in children. The symptoms are facial tingling, twitching and movement, drooling, speech slurring and tongue numbness. The seizure lasts for up to two minutes and occurs mostly during sleep or at night, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. At times, a child may have tonic-clonic (rigidity and shaking) seizures.
Landau-Kleffner syndrome is a childhood disorder that affects children between the ages of 5 and 7 years. There is a sudden loss of language ability and cognitive function. The syndrome might include nocturnal seizures, but not always, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Signs of nocturnal seizures are screaming, shouting, thrashing, posturing, leg movement, abnormal body movement, loss of bladder control or strange behaviour during sleep. If being observed in a sleep lab, there is a decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) and an increase in the lighter stages of sleep, according to the article "Nocturnal Seizures," by Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD.
The symptoms of nocturnal seizures include daytime sleepiness, confusion, attention difficulties, migraines and more. These symptoms can affect people's quality of life and lead to increased sleep deprivation with more symptoms. Those with epilepsy may have nocturnal seizures only and their associated symptoms. Seeing a physician, neurologist or sleep specialist can help you get the symptoms under control through medication or behavioural treatment.