Sleep and seizure risk in epilepsy: Bed and wake times are more important than sleep duration



Sleep duration, sleep deprivation and the sleep-wake cycle are thought to play an important role in the generation of epileptic activity and may also influence seizure risk. Hence, people diagnosed with epilepsy are commonly asked to maintain consistent sleep routines. However, emerging evidence paints a more nuanced picture of the relationship between seizures and sleep, with bidirectional effects between changes in sleep and seizure risk in addition to modulation by sleep stages and transitions between stages. We conducted a longitudinal study investigating sleep parameters and self-reported seizure occurrence in an ambulatory at-home setting using mobile and wearable monitoring.


Sixty subjects wore a Fitbit smartwatch for at least 28 days while reporting their seizure activity in a mobile app. Multiple sleep features were investigated, including duration, oversleep and undersleep, and sleep onset and offset times. Sleep features in participants with epilepsy were compared to a large (n = 37921) representative population of Fitbit users, each with 28 days of data. For participants with at least 10 seizure days (n = 34), sleep features were analysed for significant changes prior to seizure days.

Main results

A total of 4956 reported seizures (M = 83, SD = 130) and 30485 recorded sleep nights (M = 508, SD = 445) were included in the study. There was a trend for participants with epilepsy to sleep longer than the general population, although this difference was not significant. Just 5 of 34 participants showed a significant difference in sleep duration the night before seizure days compared to seizure-free days. However, 14 of 34 subjects showed significant differences between their sleep onset (bed) and/or offset (wake) times prior to seizure occurrence. In contrast to previous studies, the current study found undersleeping was associated with a marginal 2% decrease in seizure risk in the following 48 h (p < 0.01). Nocturnal seizures were associated with both significantly longer sleep durations and increased risk of a seizure occurring in the following 48 h.


Overall, the presented results demonstrated that day-to-day changes in sleep duration had a minimal effect on reported seizures, while patient-specific changes in bed- and wake-times were more important for identifying seizure risk the following day. Nocturnal seizures were the only factor that significantly increased the risk of seizures in the following 48 h on a group level. Wearables can be utilised to identify these sleep-seizure relationships and guide clinical recommendations or improve seizure forecasting algorithms.


Rachel E Stirling, Cindy M Hidajat, David B Grayden, Wendyl J D’Souza, Jodie Naim-Feil, Katrina L Dell, Logan D Schneider, Ewan Nurse, Dean Freestone, Mark J Cook, and Philippa J Karoly.

Published on 9 January 2023


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Patient-specific changes in bed- and wake-times were more important for identifying seizure risk the following day.

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