Epilepsy Hurts Everyone's Sleep

Childhood epilepsy impacts quality of sleep for parents and the child

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) When a child has a chronic illness, it invariably affects the parents' well-being too. With childhood epilepsy, those effects occur not only during the day but during the night as well.

A recent study has found that both parents and the child who has epilepsy suffer from poor sleep quality.

Since epileptic seizures can be set off by sleep deprivation, this can become a vicious cycle for the whole family.

"Develop a plan for nighttime to get some sleep."

Lead author Anna Larson, of the Pediatric Epilepsy Program in the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, joined senior author Elizabeth Thiele, MD, and colleagues to find out how a child's epilepsy affects the sleep of the child and his or her parents.

The researchers gathered data from 105 households in which a child had epilepsy and 79 households in which a child did not have epilepsy. The children in the households ranged from age 2 to 10.

The surveys of the parents asked about their child's seizure history, the quality of the parents' sleep, and the household sleeping arrangements.

The researchers found that the children in this study who had epilepsy were, on average, just a little over 2 years old when they experienced their first seizure, though 41 percent of the children had a seizure before their first birthday.

Among the children with epilepsy, 64 percent had had a seizure during the past month, and 37 percent had seizures everyday. Nearly all of the children with epilepsy - 91 percent - used at least one medication for their seizures.

The study found that a child's epilepsy had a profound impact on parents' sleep quality: 44 percent of parents said they felt "rarely" or "never" rested.

The sleep quality appeared related to their sleeping arrangements. The researchers found that parents of epileptic children were more likely to share a room or a bed with their child, and 62 percent of the parents who co-slept with their child reported a lower quality of sleep.

The decision to co-sleep was linked to the epilepsy too: almost 64 percent of the parents who co-slept with their children began doing so when their child starting having seizures, and almost 66 percent - two thirds - did not co-sleep with the child's sibling at the same age.

But it's certainly not just the parents who suffer. The children themselves had more sleep problems as well, such as waking up during the night, feeling sleepy during the day and not wanting to go to bed at bedtime.

This worried parents since past research has shown that sleeping patterns have an effect on seizures and vice versa. About 69 percent of the parents were worried about their children having nighttime seizures.

"Our study demonstrates the profound impact of epilepsy on child and parent sleep patterns," Dr. Thiele said. "The findings highlight the need for improved therapies for epilepsy and innovative nocturnal seizure monitoring technologies."

The study appeared in the journal Epilepsia and was funded with support from the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center, which receives financial support from the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2012
Last Updated:
May 18, 2012