Yang KI, Grigg-Damberger M, Andrews N, O’Rourke C., Epilepsy & Behavior 60 (2016);27–32.


Difficulty sleeping or insomnia is frequently reported by people with epilepsy. While sleep disorders are more common in adults with epilepsy as compared to people without epilepsy, causes of insomnia have not been fully studied in adults with epilepsy.

Description of Study

This study looked at information from 90 adults with epilepsy at a U.S. epilepsy center, including results from the following:

  • Interviews about sleep
  • Self-reported surveys about insomnia and depression
  • Overnight sleep studies done in a laboratory
  • Information about seizures and seizure medications
  • Review of medical records

Summary of Study Findings

  • The average age of adults in the study was 39. Of the study participants, 70% had focal or partial epilepsy, and the average seizure frequency was four seizures each month. Only 28.9% were seizure free for 6 months prior to the study. The average number of seizure medications taken was 1.7 per person.
  • During the study, 66% of adults with epilepsy reported some level of insomnia on questionnaires, and 28.9% had moderate or severe insomnia.
  • Moderate to severe insomnia was more likely in adults with epilepsy with lower total sleep times, head trauma, certain medications (sedative-hypnotic medicines), as well as when the person was taking more than one seizure medication or had asthma or COPD.
  • Higher depressive symptoms, lower total sleep times, asthma/COPD, and a history of epilepsy surgery were associated with more insomnia for 63 people with focal epilepsy.

What does this mean?

  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping is a problem in adults with epilepsy with almost 30% reporting moderate to severe insomnia. These numbers are higher than reports of insomnia in people without epilepsy.
  • Insomnia was not clearly associated with seizures or seizure medications. Yet, people on more than one seizure medication and certain types of medications were more likely to have sleep difficulties.
  • Difficulty sleeping was usually seen in people with other medical problems such as asthma or COPD and symptoms of depression.
  • This study did not use a control group or compare data to adults without epilepsy, and it looked at information from only 90 people. It’s possible they had more active epilepsy since the study was done at a specialized epilepsy center.

Article published in Epilepsy & Behavior, July 2016

Authored By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Christianne N. Heck MD, MMM
Wednesday, August 24, 2016