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How Many Hours a Person With Epilepsy Should Sleep

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Sleep is one of the most critical components in the overall management of epilepsy. Understanding the intricate relationship between sleep and the manifestation of symptoms can make a tangible difference in your daily life. Achieving high-quality sleep every night can significantly influence the frequency and severity of seizures.

How Sleep Affects Epilepsy

Sleep and epilepsy share a bidirectional relationship. While poor sleep can trigger seizures, seizures can also disrupt regular sleep patterns. Specific sleep phases, like rapid eye movement (REM) and deep sleep, play pivotal roles in the brain’s vital processes. Disturbances during these phases can intensify the frequency and severity of seizures, underscoring the importance of uninterrupted sleep.

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Understanding Sleep Cycles

Sleep isn’t monolithic; it’s a series of cycles, each serving distinct functions. The cycles, including REM sleep and deep sleep, possess individual significance for people with epilepsy. REM sleep, for instance, aids in cognitive processes, while deep sleep helps in physical restoration. Disruptions in these cycles can exacerbate epilepsy symptoms.

Determining the Right Amount of Sleep for People With Epilepsy

Health professionals typically recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for adults. However, if you live with epilepsy, specific factors like the type of seizures, medications, and lifestyle can influence this recommendation. Adjusting sleep duration based on your unique needs is essential.

Even if someone is spending the recommended seven to nine hours in bed, they might not be achieving restorative sleep. Understanding the markers of poor-quality sleep can empower individuals to make essential changes for better rest and overall health.

  • Difficulty falling asleep: Taking longer than 20-30 minutes to sleep after lying down.
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings: Multiple awakenings disrupt the sleep cycle.
  • Difficulty returning to sleep: Struggling to fall back asleep after waking up.
  • Waking up too early: Awakening earlier than desired without returning to sleep.
  • Feeling unrefreshed upon waking: Feeling tired or groggy after adequate hours in bed.
  • Daytime symptoms: Fatigue, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
  • Increased movement during sleep: Tossing, turning, or frequent shifting indicates discomfort.
  • Frequent nightmares: Recurrent disturbing dreams disrupting sleep.
  • Snoring or pauses in breathing: Potential signs of sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
  • Restless legs: Urge to move legs at night, indicating restless leg syndrome.

Personalized Approach to Sleep

The one-size-fits-all adage doesn’t apply to sleep, especially with epilepsy in the equation. While generalized guidelines are beneficial, personalizing sleep duration based on factors such as age, type of seizures, and lifestyle can yield better results in managing epilepsy.

How to Improve Sleep Quality for People With Epilepsy

High-quality sleep can bolster overall well-being and aid in managing epilepsy. Here are several strategies and considerations that can enhance sleep quality:

Creating a Conducive Sleep Environment

A sleep-friendly environment can significantly influence the quality of rest you get. Some steps to consider include:

  • Darkness: Ensure the room is dark, or use blackout curtains. Darkness signals the brain to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  • Temperature: A cooler room is often more conducive to sleep. Aim for a temperature between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Quiet: Limit noise disruptions. Consider using earplugs or white noise machines if necessary.
  • Comfort: Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. Bedding plays a pivotal role in ensuring uninterrupted sleep.

Establishing a Consistent Sleep Routine

Routine is the bedrock of good sleep hygiene.

  • Consistency: Going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, helps set your body’s internal clock.
  • Wind down: Dedicate 30 minutes to an hour before sleep for calming activities, like reading or listening to soft music.
  • Limit screen time: The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with melatonin production. It’s wise to put these devices away an hour before bedtime.

The Role of Medications and Therapies

The interplay between medications, therapies, and sleep is intricate.

  • Be informed: Understand how your antiepileptic drugs might influence your sleep. Some might cause drowsiness, while others could lead to insomnia.
  • Timing matters: If a medication causes drowsiness, it might be more effective to take it closer to bedtime. Conversely, if it’s stimulating, morning administration might be ideal.
  • Therapies: Certain therapies can aid sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), for example, is a practical approach to tackling sleep issues without medication.

Nutrition and Lifestyle Choices

What we consume has a profound impact on our sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine late in the day: Caffeine is a stimulant and can interfere with sleep if consumed in the afternoon or evening.
  • Limit alcohol: While alcohol might make you feel drowsy, it can disrupt the sleep cycle.
  • Balanced diet: Foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, and calcium can promote sleep. Include foods like turkey, almonds, and dairy in your diet.
  • Stay hydrated: Eat and drink your water, but limit fluid intake before bed to reduce nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However:

  • Timing is crucial: Avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime as they can be stimulating. Opt for relaxing exercises like yoga in the evening.
  • Morning workouts: Physical activity during the morning or early afternoon can help improve sleep quality.

Incorporating these strategies can lead to marked improvements in sleep quality, aiding those with epilepsy in managing their condition more effectively.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Epilepsy can bring about specific sleep-related challenges, each of which requires understanding and tailored strategies to address effectively.

Sleep Disruptions due to Seizures

Some people with epilepsy might experience nocturnal seizures, which can disrupt sleep.


  • Seizure diary: Maintain a diary to note when seizures occur. This can help in identifying patterns and potential triggers.
  • Safety precautions: Ensure a safe sleep environment. This might mean using bed rails, sleeping on a low bed, or using seizure alarms that alert someone if a seizure occurs during sleep.

Dealing With Sleep Deprivation

Lack of sleep can be both a cause and an effect of seizures, forming a vicious cycle for some.


  • Napping strategically: Short, early afternoon naps can help. However, prolonged or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect nighttime sleep.
  • Sleep schedule: Consistently sleeping and waking up can make a significant difference.

Medication-Induced Sleep Disturbances

Certain antiepileptic drugs can interfere with sleep, causing issues like insomnia or excessive drowsiness.


  • Timed intake: Depending on the side effects, adjust the timing of medication intake, perhaps taking drowsiness-inducing medicines closer to bedtime.
  • Consultation: Regularly discuss with your neurologist or health care provider. Adjustments in medication type or dosage might be necessary.

Managing Anxiety and Stress

Concerns about having seizures, especially during the night, can lead to anxiety and stress, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep.


  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation can be effective.
  • Professional counseling: Talking to a therapist or counselor can help address the root causes of anxiety and equip you with coping strategies.

Sleep Disorders

People with epilepsy are more prone to sleep disorders like sleep apnea, which can further complicate sleep patterns.


  • Sleep studies: If you suspect a sleep disorder, undergoing a sleep study can be beneficial. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device: For those diagnosed with sleep apnea, using a CPAP machine can improve sleep quality.

Lifestyle and Diet Factors

Certain foods, beverages, and activities can interfere with sleep.


  • Avoid stimulants: Limiting caffeine and nicotine, especially in the evening, can help.
  • Dietary adjustments: Heavy meals before bedtime can be disruptive. Opt for a light snack if you’re slightly hungry.

Recognizing these challenges is the first step. With knowledge and proactive measures, you can navigate these hurdles, improving your sleep quality and overall well-being.

Quality sleep isn’t a luxury but a necessity, especially if you live with epilepsy. Recognizing personal sleep needs, prioritizing consistent sleep patterns, and addressing challenges head-on can make a profound difference in epilepsy management.

Getty image by Alexey Yaremenko

Originally published: November 2, 2023
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