Can Sleep Apnea Cause Seizures?

November 25, 2016


Seizures and sleep apnea have a difficult relationship, medically speaking. Those who are unlucky enough to have problems with both of these conditions may find treatment hard, and may also find that both are worse under certain conditions. So, how are these two conditions related? Can sleep apnea cause seizures? I want to address this question and a few related questions to help you understand the subject matter better.

Can You Have Seizures While You Sleep?

It might sound unusual if you haven’t already read about seizures at night, but it’s actually possible to have seizures while you sleep. Your body can be triggered by any number of things, whether it is awake or not. Unfortunately, night seizures are particularly unhealthy because they disturb your sleep cycle and cause you to lose precious hours of rest.

The people who most commonly have issues with night seizures are those with epilepsy. This condition can show in varying degrees of severity, and it sets in at different points in people’s lives (although it usually appears earlier rather than later). Epilepsy is responsible for many people’s seizures, especially night seizures.

Seizures during the night and the day can become more frequent for those with epilepsy if they also begin to suffer from sleep apnea. We will discuss this connection in more detail, but first I want to explain a bit about how sleep apnea affects you at night.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Your Body?

It’s possible to have sleep apnea and not actually know it. This is because the warning signs might not seem like serious things to you, and you may not realize there is a deeper underlying problem to deal with. If you find yourself waking up frequently during the night, if your partner hears you gasp for breath at while sleeping, or if you are constantly tired even after a long night of rest then it’s possible you have this condition. It’s best not to jump to conclusions, because these can also be signs of other sleep disorders or medical issues that are completely separate. 

The problem with sleep apnea is that it cuts off the flow of oxygen to your body. When you suffer from this condition, your breathing gets constrained or blocked, causing you to have trouble breathing while you sleep. Sometimes this leads to unusually long periods between breaths, which reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. Results like these trigger your body to respond by waking you up to re-adjust your position or simply to breathe properly again. 

Sleep Apnea and Epilepsy  

The stress that sleep apnea causes to your body during the night can induce seizures. For those with epilepsy, sleep apnea has been known to create a higher likelihood of night seizures. When your breathing gets cut off, it can cause your body to go into a state of distress, which can in turn induce a seizure.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way that seizures and sleep apnea interact. Because you will not be getting restful sleep when you have sleep apnea, you are more likely to also have more frequent seizures during the day if you have both of these conditions. Being deprived of proper rest makes the seizure threshold smaller, causing you to be triggered more easily by situations that may not otherwise have bothered you when you were well rested.

Finally, sleep apnea can also affect the medications you are allowed to take for your epilepsy. Some of the main treatment medications, antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), are known to cause sleep apnea to worsen. These medications can inhibit your respiratory system and relax some of the muscles involved in breathing. Under normal circumstances, this does not create problems. But, when you also suffer from sleep apnea this can be a very dangerous combination that makes the apnea many times worse, thus also worsening your epilepsy.

These are the realities of those who live with epilepsy and also suffer from sleep apnea. The best way to solve the issue of both of these conditions together is to target the sleep apnea and treat it individually. When you have solved this issue, you can continue treating your epilepsy.

Common treatments for sleep apnea include weight loss and nighttime breathing apparatuses, but there are more medical treatment options available, especially for those with more serious cases of the disorder.


If you have trouble with sleep apnea and seizures, you need to look at the underlying cause of the problem. If epilepsy is the culprit, there are treatment options available. Those that are more prone to seizures unrelated to epilepsy can also get treatment for the sleep apnea, which should eliminate or reduce the nighttime seizure activity.

It’s best to seek medical attention from your doctor if you have any issues like these, especially if you are unsure of what is causing your seizures at night. Can sleep apnea cause seizures? Yes, but that may not be the only problem you have to deal with.

Bio : I’m Anna Smith . Chief editor here at Healthankering. I’m a proud mother of three passionate about nutrition, beauty and ways to live healthier with more energy! 


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