01/27/2012 05:33 pm ET

5 Tips For Battling Sleep Epilepsy

Sleep epilepsy is a rare sleep disorder that usually affects children and epileptics. We spoke to Roxanne Valentino, M.D., medical director of the St. Thomas Center for Sleep in Nashville, Tennesse, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have sleep epilepsy, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Shellie Braeuner

"Sleep epilepsy is a form of epilepsy where people have seizures in their sleep," says Dr. Valentino. A seizure is like an electrical storm in the brain. The sleeper may not be aware of the seizures, but instead a parent or sleep partner may notice them for the first time. Generally, others notice a grand mal seizure, since any petit mal seizures will usually go unnoticed.

Recognize The Signs

"A sleep seizure is more than just a twitch," says Dr. Valentino. "It's a prolonged jerking where the muscles pull against each other." The jerking may go on for as little as 30 seconds or as long as several minutes. The sleeper will be difficult to rouse after the seizure.

Seek Professional Help

"Anyone who has had a seizure needs to be seen by a doctor," she says. There are many causes of seizures and epilepsy is only one.

Get An EEG

"Your doctor will order an EEG," says Dr. Valentino. An EEG, or electroencephalogram, measures the brain's electronic impulses through small electrodes attached to the head. The EEG shows any abnormal electrical impulses, even those that are too small to affect the rest of the body.

Request A Sleep Study

Sleep epilepsy occurs during sleep, so according to Dr. Valentino, "a daytime EEG may not show all the information a doctor needs." A sleep study with an EEG running through the night shows the presence of any seizures, even mild ones.


"There are several types of sleep seizures that children outgrow," she says. "Others result from epilepsy, which is a treatable condition."

Roxanne Valentino, M.D., earned her medical degree from the Ohio State University. She completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic, followed by a fellowship there specializing in sleep medicine and neurophysiology. Dr. Valentino is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in clinical neurophysiology.

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What worked for you?