Sleep seizures explained


Our Helpline & Information Officer, Stuart Macgee provides information on how to detect sleep seizures.

Some people with epilepsy only have seizures during their sleep. These are called sleep seizures.

Others will have seizures during the day and at night.

There are two main kinds of sleep called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). During each kind, different parts of the brain are more active. At night we alternate between these sleep states.

Generalised seizures are more likely to happen when there is NREM sleep. During REM phase partial seizures are more likely.


Detecting sleep seizures

If you share your bed with someone, they may notice you having a seizure during your sleep.

If you sleep alone, you might find that you have bitten your tongue or wet the bed when you wake up.

Lack of sleep can trigger some seizures. People with sleep seizures often have a disturbed sleep. This can increase the number of seizures they have.

It is important to try and make sure you get enough sleep if you have seizures during the night.

Neurologists use the same methods to diagnose seizures as other kinds of epilepsy. This can mean having an EEG or an MRI scan.

You may also be asked to stay overnight in a special unity where your brain activity can be monitored while you are sleeping.

Sleep seizures


Treatment of sleep seizures

Sleep seizures are treated in the same way as any other epileptic seizures. This may mean taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).


There are a number of alarms available to alert another person when you have a sleep seizure.

Some alarms detect movement, others detect moisture (if you wet yourself). We can provide more information on the type of alarms available and where to get them.

If you have sleep seizures you may find it difficult to get up early in the morning. Some people can find they feel very tired when they wake or may be disoriented.

You may need to give yourself more time to get ready in the mornings.

Some employers are able to change start times at work for people with sleep seizures.

This is called a ‘reasonable adjustment’ and your employer needs to look at whether they can do this as part of the Equality Act.


Sleep seizures and driving

You are allowed to drive if you have:

  • been completely seizure free for 12 months; OR
  • have only had sleep seizures for 1 year.

This is because people who only have seizures during their sleep over a period of time are much less likely to have seizures during the day.

However, if you have sleep seizures it may mean you are more tired during the day.

Being tired is also dangerous when driving or operating machinery.

If you have any questions regarding sleep seizures, please call our freephone helpline on 0808 800 2200 or email