Catching those Zzzzs.

Some people can sleep for what seems like eternity and others only need a few hours. Some people can close their eyes and fall asleep instantly, while others might toss and turn all night long. We’re all different, right? Life’s busy. There’s always something important to do, places to go and people to see. But depriving your body of sleep can cause problems. Not getting enough sleep, or broken sleep can be a seizure-trigger.

Epilepsy can make getting a good night’s sleep even more difficult. Abnormal brain activity can occur even when you’re not having a seizure, which can make falling asleep a challenge. Combine this with hormones, anxiety, and all the other things you might have going on in your life and the sleep-wake cycle can be very unpredictable – especially in young people.

What happens when we sleep?

We all sleep but do we understand what’s happening when we do? Did you know that your brain is still active and processing information when you’re asleep? In fact, your brain is still working hard while you sleep, it’s just different brain activity from when you are awake, and it changes at different stages of sleep:

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM):

This includes light and deep sleep.

  • Light sleep can be split into two different stages. The first stage is all about muscle relaxation where your body prepares to sleep but you can still be easily woken up. The second stage involves your breathing slowing down a pace and your heart rate reducing.
  • Deep sleep is the other end of the scale. Your heart rate and breathing both slow down but your brain begins to produce delta waves. These are a type of electrical brain activity that increase the deeper you sleep. That’s why it sometimes takes longer to wake up from a deep sleep.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM):

This has nothing to do with the band from the 90s. Although they did sing about sleep. Your brain files all the information from your day during this stage of sleep. All your experiences, emotions and thoughts as well as all the images you’ve seen are processed, which is why you’re more likely to dream in REM sleep. Although no one is entirely sure why we dream.

Many seizures happen when your body moves from light to deep sleep, but they can also happen in deep sleep, in light sleep, or as you are waking. They can affect the amount of time you spend in REM and deep sleep and can wake you up more often.

Getting a good night’s sleep:

So, you can see how sleep can affect your epilepsy, but what about epilepsy affecting your sleep? Seizures can disrupt your regular sleep pattern. Not just during the night of your seizure – they can throw your pattern for days. This might mean for you sleepiness in the day-time, or sleeplessness at night.

Lack of sleep can be a seizure trigger, so can anxiety, including anxiety about not getting enough sleep. It can be a tricky thing to manage your sleep, your seizure triggers and your mental health.

If you lose sleep because of a seizure, it will help your body if you try and catch up on some of the hours you’ve missed if you can. Read our tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

AEDs and sleep

Sometimes it feels like you can’t win. You take AEDs to control your seizures and help you sleep. But some AEDs have sleep-related side-effects, like difficulty falling asleep or broken sleep, or they can make you feel more tired during the day. When you’re sleep deprived, you’ll do anything to get some rest – but if you’re tempted to stop taking your AEDs don’t . Chat to your epilepsy doctor about your options and how they can help. There will be things that they can suggest such as medication changes that might help, by having a chat with them and coming up with potential solutions together it gives you the best chance of getting some rest.

Sleep and self-care

Your wellbeing is vital to controlling your epilepsy and sleep is vital to your mental health. Just as sleep helps to reduce stress and anxiety it can also lift your mood. Mental health can affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep, and then when you add into the mix that anxiety and poor mental health can be a seizure trigger, you can see how vital it is to look after yourself.

It’s important you find ways to relax so that sleep happens more easily. This could be listening to music, reading, meditating, having a long bath or just chilling out watching a bit of Netflix (but be wary as some people find screen time more difficult to switch off from). Finding what works for you should help you improve your sleep pattern and general wellbeing.’

If you’ve tried all those, and you’re still struggling to get some shut eye, remember what works for one person might not work for someone else. Strategies for getting a good night’s sleep might not be a quick fix for you, and you might need to try several different things before finding one that works for you.  

Let us know in the comments below if you’ve found something which helps your sleep, chances are if it’s helped you it might also help someone else.

Does anyone else have trouble with sleep?