A common problem for many, sleepiness affects a high percentage of the general population and an even higher one for people who have epilepsy. Sleep disorders are not so easily identified among people with epilepsy and can go on to cause a high number of problems.
As always, some specific types of the medical problem we’re talking about are more common than others. However, the following types of sleep disorders have been linked with epilepsy for various reasons.
The most common sleep disorder to deal with is insomnia. If I don’t play my cards right in the day, insomnia is a problem that I have to deal with at night. I’ve so often had to deal with times when I just can’t seem to fall asleep, or find myself waking up much too early and struggling to nod off again.
Of course, my epilepsy is to blame; insomnia is a common side-effect of the Lamictal (lamotrigine) I take daily and a lot of other anti-epileptic drugs too.
As well as that, fatigue is another problem for many other people with epilepsy and me in the day, and the side-effects must clash badly. If people without these problems had a spell of how incredibly tired I’ve sometimes felt in the past, then I’m sure they’d be shocked by how strangely uncomfortable it is.
Nevertheless, I certainly believe the worst problem caused by insomnia is the possibility of what may happen in your head the following day. When very tired and deprived of sleep, I’d say most people with epilepsy have increased their chances of having an epileptic seizure.
The hours needed to keep individuals up and running differs. If I don’t manage to catch at least seven hours of sleep, then the possibility of a seizure occurring increases significantly; to put it simply, the less sleep obtained, the more likely it becomes.
If insomnia is a side-effect that causes sleep deprivation and then frequent seizures in the day, it makes the epilepsy medicine that causes this side-effect seems like such a stupidly pointless tool!
Sleep Apnoea (also spelled sleep apnea) is a sleep disorder that leads to pauses in breathing or spells of shallow breathing during sleep. At night, sounds of snoring, snorting and gasping while sleeping are also common. These sounds are usually first noticed by a sleeping partner.
It more often affects people aged between 55 and 60 years old, although anyone can develop the problem any age. The pauses and spells of unusual breathing lead to distorted sleep patterns, and research has shown that this occurs more frequently when a person has epilepsy.
Narcolepsy is a rare condition that causes excessive sleepiness during the day, as well as the possibility of sleep attacks at inappropriate times. It is considered a serious condition, and affects around 25,000 people in the UK.
Epilepsy and narcolepsy have been incorrectly linked in the past because from a medical perspective; they are both very different disorders. They may result in similar disadavantages – like frequent tiredness, and being unable to drive – but epilepsy is an electrical problem in the brain, and narcolepsy is thought to be an autoimmune disorder.
Restless Leg Syndrome
The primary warning sign of restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a great desire for you to move your legs shortly after you get in to bed, after waking in the night, or possibly whilst awake in the day. It affects as many as one in ten people in the UK at some point in their life and is more common among women, and in middle age.
The severity of RLS can range from mild to intolerable. Symptoms gradually worsen in around two thirds of people with the condition, and in extreme circumstances can even be disabling for the sufferer.
Back in January 2017, research showed that RLS is another sleep disorder than is more likely among people with epilepsy than the general public, and can also be an early sign of upcoming seizures. It’s also more common among people who have right temporal lobe epilepsy than those who have left temporal lobe epilepsy. You can read more about here via Epilepsy Research UK.
Avoiding the Symptoms
After eliminating medical reasons that could cause problems with insomnia, there’s a variety of tasks you can complete during the day to maintain what’s known as ‘good sleep hygiene’:
- Maintain a regular bedtime schedule. Try to get up and out of your bed at the same time, every day; even if it’s the weekend or a holiday.
- Avoid napping during the day time.
- Maintain a good exercise routine, but finish it at least four hours before your bed time.
- Practice relaxing activities before you sleep, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool; consider using earplugs or eyeshades if needed.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and head to another room; practice reading or another quiet task.
- Avoid caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks or diet pills.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bed.
Treating the Issues
When things don’t seem right on a regular basis, you should ask for medical advice from a doctor. A doctor may suggest you keep a sleep diary to track your daily routine and what might be disrupting your sleep patterns; it could be certain foods, drinks, activities or other events that are causing problems.
When comes down to sleep apnoea, narcolepsy and heart-related sleep problems, people are often referred to a sleep clinic, where their heart, brain and breathing will be monitored. After this, a sleep specialist will try to identify a problem at hand.
One thing I’d like to point out is that I haven’t mentioned every sleep disorder. Some are very rare, and I’m afraid this week I’m little short on my time available to give you information on every one. I’ve mentioned those that seem to have a clear link to epilepsy though, and it won’t take too long to find out more about others if needed.
Thanks for reading and sleep well.