For patients with epilepsy, developing ways to reduce the number of seizures has always been a top priority for healthcare professionals. Seizures lower quality of life and impair the individual’s ability to function in everyday life activities. Experts have known for a long time that problems sleeping tend to increase the frequency of seizures.

However, establishing the nature of this relationship has been difficult for some reasons. For example, a seizure disrupts sleep, which makes it hard to determine whether reduced sleep quality contributes to seizure frequency or if it is a side effect of epilepsy. The recently announced results of a significant study provide some answers, and the findings offer new hope for finding ways to lower the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

Research Study Description

The study was conducted at the Cleveland Sleep Clinic over a period of more than a year. Patients with epilepsy and obstructive sleep apnea were treated with continuous positive airway pressure devices or CPAP. CPAP keeps the airway open while the patient is sleeping. Chief investigator Dr. Thapanee Somboon said in a statement that the results show a very strong connection between sleep apnea treatment and reduced incidence of seizures.

Results of the Research

A total of 197 individuals with epilepsy participated in the study. Of this number, 122 were treated with CPAP for sleep apnea. The remaining patients did not receive treatment. Over 60 percent of the patients who received treatment experienced a reduction of more than 50 percent in the number of seizures after one year. Only 14 percent of the patients who did not use CPAP reported a decrease in seizure frequency. Of the participants who received treatment, 85 percent also reported that they found it easier to control seizures when they did occur.

What the Study Means for the Future

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea are known to be prevalent among people with epilepsy. This fact makes the findings of the study mainly significant. The research team pointed out that fatigue due to sleep problems strongly affects the brain, so it is logical that treatment for sleep apnea would lead to a reduction in the incidence of seizures. However, patients with epilepsy are not currently screened for sleep disorders. In fact, many are not aware that they have sleep apnea. The researchers suggested that making screening and treatment for sleep disorders should become standard practice. The study offers the possibility of a significant advance in methods for reducing epileptic seizure frequency.