Epilepsy: Sleep

Being a teen can sometimes be a lot to manage between school, work, homework, sports, other activities, and having a social life, it’s a lot to balance. It is easy for sleep to fall to the bottom of your priority list. However, for teens with epilepsy, getting adequate sleep each night should be a priority!

Why is sleep important?

Your body, including your brain, works best when you get enough sleep. You’re probably aware that you feel tired and rundown when you don’t get enough sleep. However, for a teen with epilepsy, a lack of sleep can be a trigger for increased seizure activity. It can also make it harder to concentrate or perform well while at school, doing homework, or playing sports. Additionally, poor sleep can impact your mood and slow down your reaction time. It’s extremely important to get at least 8 hours of good quality sleep each night, especially for teens and young adults with epilepsy

What causes sleep problems?

Sleep problems can be caused by an irregular schedule, stress, having many things on your mind, changes in your sleep environment (your bedroom is too hot, too cold, or too noisy), and by consuming stimulants such as caffeine too close to bedtime. Sometimes the cause is unknown. Exposure to electronic screens (phone, TV, computer) can also cause sleep problems.

Research has shown that many teens don’t get enough sleep. This is partly because during adolescence, teens’ “circadian rhythm” (the body’s internal clock) has a tendency to shift out of sync with the external clock. Instead of releasing melatonin (a hormone) early in the evening, the brain does so much later at night which makes it harder both to fall asleep early (enough to get a full 9 hours of sleep), and to wake up on time the next morning.

What is considered poor-quality sleep?

You may experience poor-quality sleep if you wake up frequently throughout the night, or do not feel rested in the morning. It is also a good idea to talk to your health care provider (HCP) if you are experiencing signs of poor-quality sleep, because you might have another medical condition such as sleep apnea that prevents you from achieving good-quality sleep.

How much sleep do I need each night?

Teens and young adults with epilepsy MUST achieve a minimum of 8 hours a night of good-quality sleep!

15 Tips to Follow:

  1. Go to sleep at the same time every day. Don’t have different bedtimes on weekdays and weekends.
  2. Wake up at the same time every day (or within 1 hour of your usual wake up time) EVEN on the weekends. A regular wake up time prevents sleep problems.
  3. Avoid naps. Napping during the day can make falling asleep at night more challenging.
  4. No caffeine after 3pm: Avoid beverages with caffeine (soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.) especially after 3pm.
  5. Space out your meals: Avoid eating right before bed.
  6. Can’t fall asleep? Get up and walk around or sit in a chair, until you feel tired. Do not use any electronics during this time.
  7. Have a nightly routine before bed: Plan on “winding down” before you go to sleep. Begin relaxing about 1 hour before you go to bed. Try doing a quiet activity such as listening to calming music, reading a book or meditating.
  8. Turn off the TV and ALL electronics including video games, tablets, laptops, etc., 1 hour before sleep, and keep them out of the bedroom.
  9. Turn off your cell phone and all notifications (new email and text alerts) using a feature like “do not disturb” or, even better, leave your phone outside your room while you sleep. Studies have shown that a part of your brain continues to respond to certain lights and sounds even while you’re sleeping.
  10. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool. If you can’t control the noise, try wearing earplugs or using a fan to block out other sounds.
  11. Practice relaxation techniques. Try reading a book or meditating or writing a list of what you need to do the next day so you don’t have stress about remembering.
  12. Don’t smoke, or quit if you do. Nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana can all keep you awake. Talk to your health care provider if you need help with substance use.
  13. Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol at night can interfere with sleeping.
  14. Move your body. Getting exercise early in the morning can improve sleep quality, but exercising at night can make it difficult for your body to relax when it’s time to sleep.
  15. Reduce exposure to bright light in the last three hours of the day before going to sleep.


Sleep is VERY important for a teen or young adult with epilepsy. Good sleep habits lower your risk of developing sleep problems and increased seizures. Try the simple steps in this guide. If you still have trouble getting enough rest, make an appointment with your health care provider.