Identifying and Treating Nocturnal Seizures

What are Nocturnal Seizures?

Nocturnal seizures are sudden, brief episodes of abnormal brain activity that occur during sleep. They may cause a person to experience feelings of disorientation or confusion. Sometimes they last only seconds, but other times they can last minutes or even hours. Some people have no memory of having one at all. No matter how much sleep you get, if you have a night terror, it will never go away. You might not remember something happening two nights ago because your mind was so focused on the fear of waking up in the middle of the night with no memory of anything that happened before then.

In some cases, nocturnal seizures can be life threatening. If you wake up suddenly in the night with no warning, you could suffer from a fatal seizure. People suffering from epilepsy have a higher risk of having nocturnal seizures than those without the condition. There are many different types of seizures, each with their own symptoms and causes.

Out of all the types of seizures, nocturnal ones have some of the strangest causes.

Some people have reported experiencing a night terror after seeing a horrific event such as an accident or a crime. Others have even said they’ve had one after hearing distressing news, such as the death of a loved one. Night terrors are not just restricted to sleep; you can also suffer one while you’re awake. This is known as Hypervigilance.

These types of nocturnal seizures are usually a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nocturnal seizures can also be a side-effect of some medications, as well as some health conditions. Your diet can also affect your likelihood to suffer from night terrors.

If you suffer from sleep apnea then you may be more likely to have a nocturnal seizure. Sleep apnea occurs when you unintentionally stop breathing while you’re asleep. This can cause your brain to receive less oxygen, which may lead to a seizure. It often affects people who are overweight or obese, and is also common in people who have a cold.

It can also be brought on by stress, fatigue, or even spicy foods. Finally, nocturnal seizures can be a sign of a more serious condition affecting the brain. For example, tumors developing in vital parts of the brain can cause night terrors as well as other symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Nocturnal Seizures?

The main symptom of a nocturnal seizure is experiencing a night terror. This can happen while you’re awake, as well as during sleep. They often strike suddenly and without warning. Nocturnal seizures usually only last a few minutes, but they can sometimes go on for hours. If you have an underlying condition such as a tumor or epilepsy, then night terrors could be the only symptom of the condition. In this case a simple brain scan may be able to detect what is causing them.

Are Nocturnal Seizures Dangerous?

Nocturnal seizures themselves are not dangerous, but there are cases in which these rarely occur but can be. Seizures caused by sleep deprivation or insomnia can trigger conditions such as an irregular heart rate or an irregular breathing pattern. These conditions in turn can cause you to have an accident such as falling down the stairs or driving your car off the road. There have been some reported cases of people suffering heart attacks or even dying because of a nocturnal seizure.

What is the Treatment for Nocturnal Seizures?

If you have been diagnosed with nocturnal seizures then your doctor will most likely prescribe a medication to help control them. It’s important that you follow the dosage instructions given to you by your physician, and keep all appointments with your doctor. You may also be referred to a sleep specialist who can help pinpoint the exact cause of your night terrors, and help eliminate them altogether.

Dealing With Nocturnal Seizures

If you are experiencing night terrors it’s important that you don’t try to wake yourself up. This will only make the situation worse. Speak to a doctor about the possibility that you may be suffering from a condition such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. If you suffer from stress or have experienced a traumatic event, then finding ways of managing your stress can help prevent night terrors.

A healthy diet as well as exercise can also help improve the quality of your sleep, and therefore reduce the likelihood of a night terror occurring.

In some cases it may be necessary to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that details your condition. This is particularly important if you have sleepwalked in the past, as it may happen again in the future, and knowledge of your condition could save your life.

If you suffer from severe night terrors and find that they’re affecting your day-to-day life, then it may be time to speak to a psychiatrist. There are various different forms of therapy that can help control the frequency of your night terrors or at least make living with them more manageable. Most of these therapies are only available on prescription, so be sure to ask your doctor. If you suffer from nocturnal seizures then it’s important that you avoid any high risk activities such as driving or swimming.

Living With Nocturnal Seizures

If you’ve been diagnosed with nocturnal seizures, then you shouldn’t feel alone. Approximately 50 in every 100,000 people suffer from night terrors, making them more common than sleep walking. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can join an online support group in which people share their experiences with nocturnal seizures and find solutions that work for them. It’s important to remember that you are not alone.

Living with night terrors or nocturnal seizures can be a struggle. They can lead to feelings of anxiety, and depression as you may feel embarrassed or even scared of your own shadow. If you find that you are suffering from these feelings on a regular basis it may be time to seek the help of a psychiatrist. You deserve to live a life without fear, after all you don’t choose to have night terrors any more than you choose to have red hair.

Do you, or anyone you know suffer from night terrors? What steps do you take to manage them?

Let us know in the comments!

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Sources & references used in this article:

Identification and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea in adults and children with epilepsy: a prospective pilot study by BA Malow, KJ Weatherwax, RD Chervin, TF Hoban… – Sleep Medicine, 2003 – Elsevier

Hyponatremia in patients with nocturnal enuresis treated with DDAVP by WLM Robson, JP Nørgaard, AKC Leung – European journal of pediatrics, 1996 – Springer

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with seizure occurrence in older adults with epilepsy by H Oguni, T Tanaka, K Hayashi… – …, 2002 – Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart· New …